Page last updated at 23:57 GMT, Thursday, 28 August 2008 00:57 UK

Chariot find at settlement site

By Steven McKenzie
Highlands and Islands reporter, BBC Scotland news website

Piece of horse harness found at Birnie
Dr Hunter holds the piece of horse harness found at Birnie

Archaeologists have uncovered a small - but vital - clue to the use of a chariot in Moray.

The piece for a horse harness was found during the latest dig at an Iron Age site at Birnie, near Elgin.

Dr Fraser Hunter, of the National Museums of Scotland, said it was further evidence of the high status of its inhabitants.

Excavations would have been unlikely at Birnie if not for the discovery of Roman coins 10 years ago.

Glass beads that may have been made at Culbin Sands, near Nairn, in the Highlands, a dagger and quern stones for making flour have also been found previously.

An army of archaeologists, students and volunteers have slowly been excavating two roundhouses that date back to 2,000 years ago.

The chariot was the flashy run around of the period
Dr Fraser Hunter
National Museums of Scotland

Two further years of work are planned before the site is restored to farmland.

An open day allowing the public to tour the dig will be held on 7 September.

Dr Hunter said the metal piece for a horse harness was among this summer's finds.

He said: "It comes from a chariot and it shows something of the contacts these people had and their aspirations, I suppose.

"The chariot was the flashy run around of the period."

The horse-drawn transport and equipment may have come from the south of Scotland, or north England.

Many finds made at Birnie are on display at Elgin Museum
Roman coins found at the site date from the 2nd Century
Coins and Roman artefacts have also been found on the Western Isles and Northern Isles

Another new find was a Roman coin linked to two hordes of silver coins found in the 1990s, which sparked the original excavations.

An aerial photograph had shown there were roundhouses at Birnie, but Dr Hunter said without the coin finds digs were unlikely to have taken place.

He believes the money was brought by Roman emissaries, who travelled up the north east coast by ships.

Birnie, which is south of the Moray Firth and set in rolling arable farmland, was beyond the frontier of the Roman Empire.

Dr Hunter said: "The coins were essentially bribes, or gifts, to keep the locals from causing trouble."

The team have been painstakingly picking through the remains of one of the roundhouses, which was badly damaged in a fire.

The blaze has "fossilised" oak timber beams and seeds, but the process of excavation has been described as being like "digging through a bonfire".

Previously, a fire investigation officer with Grampian Fire and Rescue Service and a Grampian Police scenes of crime officer helped to determine that the fire was started deliberately.

The pair were able to point to a fire being started at the base of the inside wall.

What is not known is whether this was while the house was still in use, or at the end of its life.

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