Unique collection of metal artefacts from Iron Age settlement sheds new light on prehistoric feasting rituals

A unique collection of Iron Age metal artefacts which sheds new light on feasting rituals among prehistoric communities has been discovered by archaeologists from our University during an excavation at Glenfield Park, Leicestershire.

The team, from the University of Leicester Archaeological Services (ULAS), has located a trove of ancient treasures at the site, including eleven complete, or near complete, Iron Age cauldrons, fine ring-headed dress pins, an involuted brooch and a cast copper alloy object known as a ‘horn-cap’, which may have been part of a ceremonial staff, emphasising the unusual nature of the metalwork assemblage.

The collection is unprecedented in terms of the overall mix of findings, with the cauldrons highlighting the role of the settlement as a potential host site for feasting, with associated traditions of ritual deposition of important objects.

The project took place over the winter of 2013/14 and was commissioned in advance of Glenfield Park, a large-scale warehouse and distribution development by Wilson Bowden Developments Ltd. close to the M1, and between the villages of Glenfield and Kirby Muxloe, both situated on the urban fringes of Leicester.

The site has been marked out as a potential ritual and ceremonial centre that also hosted large feasts.

John Thomas, director of the excavation and Project Officer from ULAS, said: Glenfield Park is an exceptional archaeological site, with a fantastic array of finds that highlight this as one of the more important discoveries of recent years. It is the metalwork assemblage that really sets this settlement apart. The quantity and quality of the finds far outshines most of the other contemporary assemblages from the area, and its composition is almost unparalleled. The cauldron assemblage in particular makes this a nationally important discovery.

“They represent the most northerly discovery of such objects on mainland Britain and the only find of this type of cauldron in the East Midlands.”

Most of the cauldrons appear to have been deliberately laid in a large circular enclosure ditch that surrounded a building. They appear to have been a variety of sizes, illustrating their potential to provide for large groups of people that may have gathered at the settlement from the wider Iron Age community of the area. 

John said: “Due to their large capacity it is thought that Iron Age cauldrons were reserved for special occasions and would have been important social objects, forming the centrepiece of major feasts, perhaps in association with large gatherings and events.

“The settlement itself adds considerable information on the establishment, growth and development of long-lived Iron Age settlements in the East Midlands, and offers new insights into the role of these well-established communities.”

The results of the project to date are published in the current issue of British Archaeology magazine, which will be available from 6 December.

Iron Age cauldrons discovered at feasting site:

CT scans of Iron Age cauldrons: