By Stephen Harrison, BA, MPil Phd, Consultant Archaeologist
Bronze Age
Iron Age
Early Modern

Main Index

IRON AGE (c.800 BC - AD 71)

This period sees further cultural changes in the area: the emergence of a distinctive local tradition known as the Arras Culture, named after the type-site, near Market Weighton, and excavated in 1815-17.

Particular traits of this culture are: the development of large cemeteries, often containing upwards of 500 graves each; the definition of individual graves by a covering mound, set within a square enclosure ditch; and an elite burial tradition involving the internment of a dismantled two-wheeled vehicle with the corpse (often referred to as "chariot or cart burials).

In a typical burial, the corpse is laid on its side in a crouched or contracted position, sometimes in a coffin, and buried with the head usually at the north end of the grave and facing east. The most common artefact in these graves is a single brooch, usually at the shoulders, although, occasionally, the burial is also accompanied by a ceramic vessel. In a small number of cases, the corpse is either flexed or fully extended, with the head at the east or west end of the grave. A different range of artefacts is found in these graves: swords, spearheads, tools, knives, and spindle whorls, together with sheep or pig bones (representing the remains of joints of meat), usually placed in a pot. These burials appear to make their first appearance in the fourth century BC, are most numerous in the second century BC, and end in the first century BC.

There are similarities between the burials of the Arras Culture and several distinct groups of La Tene burials in northern Europe, where the burial of carts was also practised. These parallels have been used to support theories that the Arras Culture has its origins in the arrival of high-status immigrants, from northern France or Belgium, into the Humber region in the fifth century BC. Whilst this is a possibility, some commentators have suggested that the phenomenon can best be explained as the emulation of exotic, "foreign", behaviour by indigenous elites striving to establish themselves. In East Yorkshire, the distribution of Arras Culture sites coincides with the area attributed, by Roman authors, to the Iron Age tribe known as the Parisi, a name which further emphasises some form of "link" between this region and northern France.

Initially, Iron Age settlement and land use took place within a framework provided by the later Bronze Age system of linear dykes. However, as the period progressed, the areas bounded by the pre-existing dykes were progressively sub-divided into smaller field systems. Evidence for this new phase of enclosure can be detected, on aerial photographs, over much of the Wolds.

It is thought that this progressive enclosure represents a fundamental shift in farming practices, from, in the earlier Iron Age, an economy based primarily on cereal production, to one, in the later part of the period, centred more on livestock rearing and management. These changes are also associated with growing population levels and the foundation of village-type communities, and can be interpreted as an attempt to rationalise and use more effectively the limited resources available.

Pathaeolithic c.250,000 - 8,300 BC
Mesolithic c.8,300 - 4,000 BC
Neolithic c.4,000 - 2,000 BC
Bronze Agec.2,000 - 800 BC
Iron Agec.800 BC - AD 71
Romano-British c.AD 71 - 410
Anglo-Saxon and Vikingc.AD 410 - 1066
Medieval c.AD 1066 - 1540
Early Modernc.1600 -1800
Modern c.1800 to the present day

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