Complete Bronze Age horse harness found in hoard

A hoard of Bronze Age artifacts including bronze buckles, a bronze sword in its scabbard with its hilt still attached and a unique horse harness complete with surviving leather and wood has been unearthed in the Scottish Borders. The hoard was buried there around 1000-800 B.C., the Late Bronze Age.

Metal detectorist Mariusz Stepien was scanning a field near Peebles on June 21st when he found a small bronze object buried a foot and a half under the surface. His detector indicated there was more to be found in that spot, emitting a strong signal around the bronze piece. Instead of continuing to dig, he stopped everything and alerted Scotland’s Treasure Trove unit.

That is always a best practice, but in this case his caution was of paramount archaeological importance because the preserved organic components of the horse harness could easily have been destroyed by even the most careful digging. After 22 days of professional excavation, the hoard in its entirety (minus a handful of loose pieces) was raised in a soil block for painstaking excavation and analysis in  laboratory conditions.

The archeologists found the sword, still in its scabbard, which had been adorned with straps, buckles and chariot-wheel axle caps, alongside remnants of a decorative “rattle pendant” that would have hung off the horse’s harness – the first to be found in Scotland and only the third in the UK.

Treasure Trove, which is overseeing the recovery and assessment of the find, said the soil had preserved the leather and wood found among the items, allowing experts to trace the straps that connected the rings and buckles together to make the harness, something that has “never been seen before in Britain”.

The unit’s head, Emily Freeman, said: “This is a nationally significant find – so few bronze age hoards have been excavated in Scotland. It was an amazing opportunity for us to not only recover bronze artefacts, but organic material as well. There is still a lot of work to be done to assess the artefacts and understand why they were deposited.”

The hoard pit was scanned before the soil block was removed to make a 3D model of the finds in situ.