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Harborough Museum

Mysterious Guardians

Mysterious Guardians

Thousands of bones were discovered by the archaeologists working at the Hallaton shrine.

Most of the remains were pig bones, possibly the remnants of great feasts, held during the AD 30s. Other bones come from domesticated animals such as sheep and cattle. Only one human bone was found at the site.

The remains of three dogs were also found. The dogs were probably buried to act as spiritual guardians of the shrine and its treasures. You can see the remains of one of the dogs at Harborough Museum.

Use the gallery below to find out more.

Artist's impression of the Hallaton dogs

Hallaton dogs

This is an artist’s impression of what the dogs may have looked like. They were large by Iron Age standards, around the same height as a German Shepherd. They were stocky animals who were fairly old by the time they died. Their bones show signs of damage suggesting they had a hard life.

A photograph of a pit with animal bones and a scale stick in it

The dogs

The remains of three dogs were found at the shrine. Archaeologists believe these were buried between AD 1 -50. The most complete dog skeleton is shown here and was found in a pit in the entrance to the site. It has been very deliberately placed in the pit with its head drawn back and its feet possibly bound beneath its body.

An illustration of an Iron Age man

Spirit guardians

Archaeologists believe that the dogs were killed and sacrificed for burial at the shrine. They were probably important animals to the tribe, perhaps used as guard dogs. It is possible that the dogs were intended to act as guardians of the shrine, protecting the objects buried there.

A photograph of a box of bones.

The pigs

Archaeologists found thousands of pig bones in front of the shrine’s entrance. These seem to have been buried during the AD 30s, possibly on separate occasions over a number of years. The remains of around 80 pigs have been excavated but it is thought that the remains of up to 400 pigs may have been buried at the shrine in total.

The Shrine

Feasting and sacrifice

It is likely that these bones are the remnants of great feasts held near the shrine, probably attracting people from the surrounding area and maybe even further afield. Some of the bones have butchery marks suggesting they were prepared for food. However, other bones were found buried in articulation. This means they were buried as joints of meat and the meat was not eaten. Perhaps these joints were buried as food for the gods.

Photo of a pig in a field

Iron Age pigs

The pigs found at Hallaton may have looked similar to this Tamworth/Wild Boar cross. Most of the pigs found at Hallaton were under 12 months old when they were killed. They had not reached their full size and meat potential and this suggests that they were specially chosen, perhaps as a grand gesture for the gods.

Photo of bones in the ground

Missing legs

An intriguing aspect to the burial of the pig bones at Hallaton is the mystery of the missing right forelegs. There are not enough of these bones represented in the bone assemblage indicating that this part of the carcass was deposited elsewhere. Did the right foreleg have some special significance to the Corieltavi tribe? Or was this part of the animal seen as unsuitable for burial at the shrine?

A human bone

Human bone

Only one human bone was found at the shrine – part of a left upper arm bone which belonged to an individual over 15 years of age. That only one bone was found is unusual for an Iron Age site. Human bones were buried at ritual sites and even on domestic sites during this period. Interestingly, the bone was broken in half. Half was found in the ditch and the other half was discovered in the pit containing the helmet.

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