AN ANCIENT Celtic burial site believed to have international significance has been discovered in a Pembrokeshire field by a local metal detectorist, the Western Telegraph can reveal.

The find was initially met with disbelief from archaeological experts but is now thought to be the first example in Wales of a Celtic chariot burial.

It appears to be at the centre of what archaeologists describe as a ‘huge’ Celtic settlement larger than Castell Henllys and dating back 2,000 years or more.

The National Museum of Wales is keeping the exact location in the south of the county secret because of its importance.

Mike Smith, a member of the Pembrokeshire Prospectors, discovered several pieces of Iron Age Celtic metalwork this February when flooding on his usual detecting route led him to search in a different area.

“My first find was a Celtic horse harness junction piece,” said Mike. “When I found it my friends said I would never top it, but the next day I went back and found the rest...”

Western Telegraph:  

Mike Smith (centre) with volunteer excavators at the dig: John James Stoner from Sheffield, Steve Lewis, Andrew Rolfe, and James Longman from Lincoln. PICTURE: Mike Smith.

As Mike dug down eight inches into the soil he found other decorative pieces, including bronze bridle fittings, a brooch and the handle section of tools.

Though they were green from corrosion, the bronze pieces were covered in bright red enamel decoration which had not faded with time.

Near his original finds Mike’s detector also recorded the presence of a three-metre piece of metal deep in the ground.

Excavation of the site began in June, after Mike had contacted the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff and the Dyfed-Archaeological Trust.

After digging down a further 10 inches below Mike’s first finds, the rims of two rusted iron chariot wheels were uncovered.


The tops of the iron chariot wheels see light for the first time in more than 2,000 years. PICTURE: Mike Smith.

Mike and the excavation team soon realised what they had uncovered was a Celtic chariot burial, a funeral rite in which a chieftain is buried with his chariot and his horses.

A pony’s tooth found next to two bridle bits helped to confirm the discovery. In total, 35 fragments of enamelled bronze were found in the field.

“This is unprecedented,” said Mike, “and underneath the chariot there is still the three-metre metal anomaly. If you go by other chariot finds that could be weapons or it could be treasure.”

Chariot burials have been documented across Europe but in the UK have mainly been isolated to north east England.

This find would be the first example in Wales, and could link Pembrokeshire to a much wider ancient culture with shared funeral rites.


A mini digger excavating the field. PICTURE: Mike Smith.

Mike said his original email to the National Museum suggesting he had found a chariot burial was initially laughed at.

“What the archaeologists said at the time was because there had never been a find down here before, they didn’t believe it.

“The look on their faces when they saw it said it all.”

Survey work uses a technology called geophysics which maps structures buried under the earth and revealed a 12m circular earthwork around the burial, known as a ring ditch.

Two other burials in ring ditches were also found nearby and soon a complex of ditches, walls and other features were detected.

Researchers believed that a huge and previously unknown Celtic settlement had been found.

“The actual field is very large and it is only in the corner of this field, but the settlement is also going into other nearby fields,” said Mike.


Fragments of enamelled bronze which fit together. PICTURE: Mike Smith.

There are no estimates for how large the settlement could be, but the National Museum staff believe it to be larger than Castell Henllys near Crymych, which is just over an acre in size.

After a week of digging, the excavation work by the museum and Dyfed Archaeological Trust, partly funded by Cadw, stopped and the chariot was covered back over as the funding for the dig had run out.

Excavation work is set to start again next year when funding is available and the soil is damp and less compacted.

Mike is concerned the site may fall prey to night hawkers, detectorists who swoop into sites after dark to steal valuable artefacts for a profit.


Chains from a pony's bridle discovered in the field. PICTURE: Mike Smith.

A spokesman for the National Museum of Wales said the site was an exciting Iron Age discovery, which could be developed into a wider project in the future.

“Full excavation of the site and analysis of the find will need to be carried out before we can fully understand its importance. The site now enjoys legal protection.”

They added: “A preliminary excavation of the site where the artefacts were found was carried out jointly by Amgueddfa Cymru and Dyfed Archaeological Trust over the summer, partly funded by Cadw.

“This revealed further significant and exciting discoveries at a previously unknown Iron Age archaeological site.

“Amgueddfa Cymru is working with its partners on this continuing treasure case and in developing a detailed and fully funded proposal for further investigation.

It is intended that a wider museum project will be developed, to offer opportunities for local communities to become involved in revealing new stories about their prehistoric past, he added.