Leicestershire seems to be a county that just keeps ‘giving’ to archaeologists, from the discovery of Richard III’s remains (naturally) in 2012 to gigantic Roman structures under Leicester…and now, moving back in time, an Iron Age shield has been found in, of all places, the River Soar. (Everyone was wrong about Richard being in the Soar, but it seems a lot of other things were thrown in its waters over the centuries!)
What makes this item unique and an extremely exciting find, is that it is made of wood. Organics seldom survive in the archaeological record unless the conditions are perfect–and they seem to have been in this case.
The shield, which is 2300 years old, is made of hardwood, with a hazel rim and a boss of willow. At first archaeologists thought it might simply be a ‘ritual deposit’, made purely to go into the waters and never used in warfare, as they thought such thin wood would not stand up well in battle, but experimental reproductions showed the light, bendy shield was in fact adequate at deflecting blows. It still may have gone into the water as a deliberate offering–water deposits to Chthonic gods were common in Britain from the late Bronze Age through the Iron Age.
It is interesting to note that its shape is almost identical to that of the famous Battersea Shield, found in the river in London, only that shield is metal with exquisite enamelled designs.
Top-New Shield and reconstruction. Bottom-the Battersea Shield.