BA Ancient History and Archaeology

Year of entry: 2024

Course unit details:
Chariots, Cauldrons and Celts: The Archaeology of the Iron Age in Britain and Ireland

Course unit fact file
Unit code CAHE35461
Credit rating 20
Unit level Level 3
Teaching period(s) Semester 1
Available as a free choice unit? Yes


The Iron Age of Britain and Ireland is famed for its fabulous objects adorned with Celtic art: swords, shields and cauldrons, torcs and horse-gear, as well as technological marvels such as the chariot. It has also given rise to some of the first ‘named’ individuals we know from later prehistory as it entered the world of Rome: Commius, Boudicca and Cartimandua. In this module we will explore the reality behind these myths, during this fascinating millennium (c. 800 BC-100 AD): the invention of smithing iron, the creation of the hillforts which still dominate our skylines, the fabulous hoards of weaponry and horse-gear buried in pits and rivers, and the burials through which we can explore the lives and deaths of some exceptional figures from the past. We will examine conflict and violence, feasting and craftwork, agricultural labour and the sacrifice of both people and things. We will also critically explore the concept of the Celts, and examine the stories that are told about them by ancient and modern authors, with a particular focus on museum exhibitions and the role that artefacts play in the past and the present.


As part of this module, students will be trained to report professionally upon and illustrate the Iron Age finds from an archaeological context. To support this assessment, we will be undertaking a fieldtrip with a ‘behind the scenes’ handling session and sketching workshop, to an iconic Iron Age exhibition (e.g. the British Museum).


The aims of this module are to:

  • Deepen student knowledge of the chronology of the Iron Age;
  • Enable students to critically reflect upon the importance of technological inventions, social transformations and material phenomena which characterise this period;
  • Enable students to identify, interrogate and critique how sites, finds and texts are used to tell different stories of the Iron Age past, particularly in a museum context.

Knowledge and understanding

By the end of this module, students will have:

  • An ability to describe in-depth the key archaeological signatures of the Iron Age in Britain Ireland: settlements, burials, hoards and artefacts;
  • An ability to critically debate problems with how these features have been used to analyse the regionally distinctive character of society, and aspects of personhood and power;
  • An ability to use Iron Age archaeological evidence to analyse agricultural change, craft skill, violence and belief;
  • A critical grasp of the the myths and stereotypes which have shaped our understanding of this period and an ability to articulate the important contribution of experimental archaeology and creative partnerships to produce more subtle stories of the past.

Intellectual skills

By the end of this module, students will be able to:

  • Lead on critical debates relating to the Iron Age and show a balanced appreciation of different perspectives (seminars, essay);
  • Critically distinguish between contrastive bodies of evidence and produce novel analysis based on personal research (essay, Contextual Finds Report);
  • Identify, research and present a short professional report on Iron Age artefacts and their context (Contextual Finds report).   

Practical skills

By the end of this module, students will have developed:

  • Enhanced research skills to locate and interrogate primary archaeological material (seminars, essay, Contextual Finds report);
  • An ability to critically review and synthesise scholarship on the Iron Age (essay, seminars);
  • Creative skills in analysing, interpreting and illustrating a small body of Iron Age finds within their archaeological context (Contextual Finds report).

Transferable skills and personal qualities

By the end of this module, students will have enhanced:

  • Their ability to work well as part of a team (seminars, fieldtrip);
  • Their ability to conduct and report upon independent, primary research (essay, Contextual Finds report);
  • Skills of observation, recording and reporting upon novel data (Contextual Finds report).

Employability skills

By the end of this module, students will have improved: ¿ Their knowledge of the international significance of British and Irish archaeology, and how it has been used in public debates about the past (seminars, essay); ¿ Their ability to locate, distill and analyse information from a variety of contexts: `big data¿ repositories and databases; newspaper reports; online media and digital archives/collections (essay, Contextual Finds report); ¿ Their professional writing and creative design skills (Contextual Finds report).

Assessment methods

Assessment task

Formative or Summative

Weighting within unit (if summative)

Essay - 2500 words

  • Essay Plan
  • Final Essay








Artefact Report (based on Portable Antiquities Scheme model) - 2000 words

  • Plan and Sketch
  • Combined Report including wider archaeological context









Feedback methods

Feedback method

Formative or Summative


Formative and summative feedback will be delivered on written assignments through Blackboard feedback comments


  • Seminar discussions provide continuous feedback on understanding and contextualisation
  • Workshop sessions (in the laboratory and in the gallery) provide time to gain feedback on artefact interpretation and illustration skills
  • In addition, students may make an appointment with the module co-ordinator during their office hours (face-to-face or bookable online sessions), to gain academic advice throughout the semester on their assessments and formative/summative feedback
  • Written feedback should also be discussed face-to-face with the student's Academic Advisor, in one of the bi-semester personal appointments offered to the student

Recommended reading

Armit, I. 2005. (2nd edition). Celtic Scotland: Iron Age Scotland in its European Context. London, Batsford.

Collis, J. 2003. The Celts. Origins, Myths and Inventions. Tempus, Stroud.

Cunliffe, B. 2018. The Ancient Celts (2nd edition). Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Garrow, D. and Gosden, D. 2021. Technologies of Enchantment: Exploring Celtic Art. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

Giles, M. 2012. A forged glamour: landscape, identity and material culture in the Iron Age. Oxford, Windgather Press.

Giles, 2020. Bog Bodies: face to face with the past. Manchester, Manchester University Press.

James, S. 1999 The Atlantic Celts - Ancient Peoples or Modern Invention? British Museum Press, London

Raftery, B. 1994. Pagan Celtic Ireland. Thames and Hudson, London.

Study hours

Scheduled activity hours
Lectures 22
Seminars 11
Independent study hours
Independent study 167

Teaching staff

Staff member Role
Melanie Hind Unit coordinator

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