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North Bersted Man

North Bersted Man (skeleton)

This is the biggest discovery of my career to date. As a whole, it is amazing - a once in a lifetime thing.

Andrew Taylor; Senior Projects Officer; Thames Valley Archaeological Services LTD, 2019





Mystery Warrior: The North Bersted Man

The Discovery

In June 2008, a group of archaeologists from Thames Valley Archaeological Services Ltd were working in this very area when, amongst the thousands of mundane ditches, pits and post-holes, they discovered the unimaginable - the grave of the most elaborately equipped Iron Age Warrior to have been found in England.

The Burial

The individual, a male aged 45 years or over, was buried in a highly elaborate and celebratory way. The community had constructed an open, wooden, iron bound box with which to carry him to his final resting place. Once there, he was removed and placed into a pre-prepared grave.

By his left side was a bronze helmet adorned with a unique and elaborate openwork crest. A bronze butterfly shaped shield boss was found next to the helmet. His sword, still in its iron scabbard, was placed by his knees. The objects had been ritually destroyed before being buried with him. His spear was also broken. The spearhead was found by his head but the butt at the end of the spear was placed by his left shin.

Three tall pottery jars had been placed by his head. In contrast, two pottery bowls placed by his feet had been smashed deliberately. Only some pieces of the bowls were placed in the grave.

Vital Statistics:

Radiocarbon Date: 194 - 57 BC (95.4% probability)

Sex: Male

Age at Death: 45 years or older

Estimated Height: 1.72m tall (5ft 7 inches)

Isotope Results: Suggests a childhood spent in a zone that includes eastern France and much of eastern England (excluding the south coast east of Devon)

His bones show us that he led a very physical and active lifestyle. His leg bones exhibit evidence of strong muscle and ligament attachment, indicating that he was probably a
horse rider. There were also marked differences in the size of the bones of his left and right upper arms. His right arm was significantly larger, suggesting a preference for this arm for repetitive or heavy exercise, such as holding and controlling a weighty sword. Most interestingly, the vertebra of his upper neck show signs of significant wear, perhaps caused by wearing a heavy helmet over time.

Connections with the Continent

During the Late Iron Age (100 BC - AD 43) ties of kinship and trade linked the people of southern Britain with those of northern Gaul. On the Continent Julius Caesar embarked on a military campaign to conquer Gaul for the expanding Roman Empire. Known as
the Gallic Wars, major battles were fought across much of what is now France and
Belgium between 58 BC and 51 BC.

Julius Caesar documented the campaign within his personal accounts, the 'De bello
Gallico' (The Gallic Wars)
. In 56 BC he recorded that when the tribes of the northern coast
of Gaul rose in revolt against the Romans, they sent for help from Britain. Conflict migrants fleeing Caesar's brutal conquest were also known to have taken refuge in Britain.

Who Was the Mystery Warrior?

The results of the isotopic analysis, the burial rite bestowed upon him, and the style and form of his weaponry suggest that the Mystery Warrior was from the Continent, probably from France.

He was probably a conflict migrant and he probably didn't travel alone. The ritual killing of his weaponry was not done by him, but by others who would have experienced this practice on the other side of the channel. Perhaps the Mystery Warrior was buried by brothers-in-arms, men that he had once led in battle.

The grandeur and magnificence of his helmet alone demonstrates that he was certainly a figure-head. We may never know for certain who he was, but we do know he was a man of great power and influence, respected and loved by his followers in life, and in death.

Thanks to the generous donation of the finds by Berkeley Homes and funding from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, the burial is now cared for by The Novium Museum, Chichester.

North Bersted Complete Pot
North Bersted Helmet
North Bersted Lattice A
North Bersted Lattice A (detail)
North Bersted Lattice B
North Bersted Man (skeleton)
North Bersted Shield Boss
North Bersted Spearhead
North Bersted Sword