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Grave of 'real life Asterix' discovered at building site

Steve Parsons/PA Wire

By Ben Mitchell, PA

The unique and highly-elaborate grave of a real-life Asterix resistance fighter against the Romans has been discovered on a West Sussex building site.

The Iron Age warrior, buried with his glamorous and ornate head-dress, is believed to have been a refugee French Gallic fighter who fled Julius Caesar's legionnaires as they swept across continental Europe in about 50BC.

Archaeologists have described the discovery, which will go on display at Chichester's Novium Museum in January 2020, as "the most elaborately equipped warrior grave ever found in England".

The grave was found during excavations ahead of a Berkeley Homes housing development in North Bersted in 2008, but it has taken years of conservation and scientific analysis to prepare the artefacts for display.

Dr Melanie Giles, senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Manchester, told PA: "It really is absolutely a unique find in the British Isles and in the wider continent, we don't have another burial that combines this quality of weaponry and Celtic art with a date that puts it around the time of Caesar's attempted conquest of Britain.

"We will probably never know his name, what we know from the archaeology is that he is either someone from eastern England who may have gone and fought with the Gauls that we know was a problem for Caesar, we were allies with the French, helping them with their struggle against him.

"Or he might be a Frenchman himself who flees that conflict, possibly a real-life Asterix and coming to us, just as in Asterix in Britain, to lend us aid in terms of the knowledge he has about strategy, tactics, he knows Caesar is going to try to divide and rule.

"Also he brings with him his kit, extraordinary weaponry, a beautiful sword which is not like the swords we have, a new technology, style and design and helmet which is absolutely unique with these wonderful Celtic openwork crests which exaggerate his height and make him absolutely fabulous.

"He brings that awe and intimidation with him, you can imagine him riding around on horseback, galvanising the local people, training, helping to put in place strategies to try and hold Rome at bay as best as possible."

James Kenny, Chichester District Council's archaeologist, explained that the "mystery warrior" could have been a military leader for King Commius who fled France after fighting Caesar.

He said: "Due to the richness of the finds within the grave, we believe that the mystery warrior held one of the most prestigious roles in the country.

"This is one of the most exceptional finds in this particular archeological period and is of international significance."

He explained that the key find was the helmet with its unique ornate bronze openwork crest which would have "shone like gold" and had been decorated with horse-hair plumes.

The warrior was also buried with a sword which had been "decommissioned" by being heated and bent along with his shield, spear and food for the afterlife.

Mr Kenny added: "What distinguishes the discovery from any other burial in Britain is the breathtaking quality and beauty of the artefacts and the range of his possessions."

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