Iron Age axle revealed in Suffolk

The axle has been radiocarbon dated to the middle Iron Age, c.400-100 BC.

Part of a wooden axle, possibly from a cart or chariot, has been identified following its discovery in an Iron Age pit near Eastbridge, Suffolk.

IMAGE: Cotswold Archaeology

The pit was one of a pair uncovered by Cotswold Archaeology during their 2021 excavation ahead of tree-planting at Sizewell C nuclear power station. They are thought to have been used as watering holes for livestock, and luckily were still waterlogged, helping to keep the wood well-preserved in the intervening millennia. Broken and slightly charred in places, it appears the axle was repurposed to be used as part of a stake revetment to prevent the collapse of the waterhole in the surrounding sandy soil. It was found alongside other charred boards, which may have come from the same vehicle.

The axle was identified by archaeological wood expert Michael Bamforth and has been radiocarbon dated to the middle Iron Age, c.400-100 BC. Constructed out of hazel wood, most of the spindle (or wheel hub) survives, along with part of the rectangular axle-bed, which would have been secured underneath the vehicle to which it was attached. A notch on the end of the spindle would have held the linchpin that held the wheel in place. Michael also identified two areas of wear and/or compression, suggesting that the axle had been used before being deposited in the pit.

While a small number of prehistoric wooden wheels have previously been discovered in Britain, axles are rare, with a notable exception found at the Bronze Age site of Flag Fen near Peterborough. Previously, prehistoric axles have only been able to be identified by the imprint they left in the soil, such as those found in the Iron Age chariot burials at Wetwang in the East Riding of Yorkshire. Post-excavation analysis of the axle is ongoing, and hopefully its discovery will help tell us more about the construction and use of vehicles in Iron Age Britain.