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Iron Age Religion and Ritual

Rectangular shrines are known from the Middle Iron Age at Little Waltham and Stansted. At Harlow, an Iron Age site excavated beneath the remains of the Roman temple was the focus of cult offerings from around 50 BC, and finds recovered include around 900 coins of differing types, many in mint condition. Coins minted by leaders of tribes other than the local Catuvellauni, including the Iceni, Coreltauvi and Durotriges, may represent pilgrims from further afield, while other offerings included brooches and iron tools. 80% of the animal remains came from lambs slaughtered between six and nine months of age, so it seems likely that these animals played a specific part in rituals enacted at the site.

A similar pattern to that seen in the Bronze Age, of deliberate deposition of material – especially coins and metalwork – in rivers, streams, ponds and wells – continues in the Iron Age. A hoard of 23 objects from Town Mead, Waltham Abbey included a variety of blacksmithing and carpentry tools, and a sword fragment and linch pin. Many of which had been deliberately bent or broken, and may have been thrown into the river Lea as an offering.

In the Iron Age, archaeologists have also observed possible evidence for a phenomenon known as the “Cult of the Severed Head”, a practice perhaps similar to that known among the Celts of taking the heads of enemies as trophies. Whole skulls or parts of skull were buried in unusual ways, for example at the Harlow Temple site where the skull of a young adult was buried in a pit with an iron spear blade and a bronze ring.