The 400BC Ferrari

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AN Iron Age chariot unearthed at an Edinburgh building site has been proved the oldest in Britain.

Radiocarbon tests on the wheels of the chariot, which has been described as a "Ferrari of the Iron Age", have proved it dates back to 400BC - 200 years earlier than the previous oldest British find.

Archaeologists studying it have also discovered ancient Scots were more in touch with continental Europe than was previously thought.

The remains of the chariot were discovered by workers digging on the site of the Edinburgh Interchange business park, near the Newbridge roundabout, nearly three years ago.

Scientists have just finished studying the remains and it is now being prepared to go on public display, probably at the Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street.

The discovery is the first of its kind in Scotland and believed to be the burial place of a nobleman, or warrior, whose chariot was placed with him as a mark of respect.

The style of the burial has shown experts that Scots must have had strong links with Europe and been in tune with continental fads during the Iron Age.

Fraser Hunter, the Iron Age and Roman Curator at the National Museums of Scotland, is part of the 12-strong team that examined the find.

He said: "The Newbridge Chariot is a British-style chariot, but the way in which it was buried shows that the powerful people in Scottish society were tapped into trends and fashions on an international scale."

John Lawson, Edinburgh City Council archaeologist, said the discovery had provided an insight into life in the Lothians nearly 2500 years ago.

He said: "The style of burial - where the chariot is buried intact - is similar to burials in Northern France and Belgium.

"It is a unique find which proves the long-standing Celtic connections between Scotland and Europe."

The only other places in Western Europe where similar discoveries have been made are in East Yorkshire and France.

The discovery of the Iron Age chariot - hailed as one of the most important ever made in Scotland - was made near another historic city site.

Huly Hill, a Bronze Age site, lies only 200 metres away from where the remains were found, and pre-dates the chariot by about 1500 years. The hill was an early religious site and may explain why the chariot’s owner wanted to be buried there.

Some theorists have suggested the chariot’s owner may have descended from the Votadini tribe, which lived on the eastern seaboard, from the Lothians to Northumberland from around 2000BC.

The chariot’s conservation is a joint project involving the city council, the National Museums of Scotland and Headland Archaeology, the city firm behind the excavation work at the Scottish Parliament site at Holyrood.

The chariot is remarkably complete, with surviving parts including its base, two wheels and even the remains of a bridle.

Stephen Carter, a director of Headland Archaeology, said the results of the research confirmed what the company’s experts had suspected when the discovery was first made - that this was an exceptionally important find.

He said: "Our main challenge was finding enough organic material in the wheels of the chariot to allow us to date it, as much of the wood has been replaced by iron corrosion over time. It is very satisfying that the scientific process has confirmed our initial instincts so accurately."

The National Museums of Scotland is carrying out conservation work on the remains so they can go on public display.

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