An elite armoury Sheathed in a scabbard, with a long blade suited to fighting on horseback, this weapon was no everyday fighting tool; it was a prestigious, finely crafted (in Continental La Tène style), and expensive piece of equipment that only high-ranking warriors would have possessed. The fact that such a valuable item had been buried with this individual rather than being passed on hints at the esteem in which he was held by his mourners. Iron Age sword burials are very rare in Sussex, though at the time of writing this feature the discovery of another (albeit less extravagant) example was announced at Walberton, located around seven miles from North Bersted (see p.8 for more on this find). A small number of examples are also known from elsewhere along the south coast, such as at Owlesbury in Hampshire (which also contained a spearhead and a strikingly similar shield boss, of which more below) and Whitcomb Below Analysis of the skeleton of the ‘mystery warrior’ suggested that he had led a very physically active life, and that his weapons were not symbolic grave goods but had been wielded by this individual. One of the intricate openwork crests that had adorned his helmet can be seen in this photograph, oxidised by centuries spent underground. RIGHT Shown with the two metal rings that would have been used to secure its scabbar d to a belt, this La Tène-style sword had been violently bent almost in half before it was placed in the grave.
was markedly bigger than his left, suggesting that he had regularly used that arm in repetitive heavy tasks – perhaps wielding a sword like the hefty blade that had been placed by his knees.
in Dorset. This scarcity suggests that there was something distinctive about the individuals who were laid to rest accompanied by such a weapon – and further clues to the man’s identity were soon forthcoming.
As well as a sword for hand-to-hand fighting, he had been equipped with a distance weapon: a spear that could be thrown or used to keep an adversary at arm’s length. The wooden shaft had long since decayed, but the position of its iron head – a willow-leaf shape commonly seen in examples of this period – suggests that the spear had been snapped in half before it was placed in the grave: perhaps a ritual gesture ‘killing’ the object to mark its owner’s death and preventing it from being recovered or reused. The sword had also been deliberately damaged ices (far left)
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: Thames Va
beyond repair, with both blade and scabbard violently bent at a sharp angle.
The North Bersted warrior had also been buried with a shield, and although all that had survived was its boss – a large, winged shape made from thin bronze sheet – traces of wood preserved in corrosion on the metal suggests that its main board had been made of ash. The boss had a distinctive butterfly shape, with a pointed cone in its centre – it is thought that as well as being its owner’s main form of defence, the shield could also have been used as an additional weapon at close quarters – and it too appears to have been deliberately dismantled before burial, bending one of its wings in the process.
ELOW The head of a spear that had also been buried with the North Bersted warrior.