THE “incredibly rare” 2,000-year-old grave of an Iron Age “warrior” has been unearthed by archaeologists.

The recently-revealed burial site, one of only a handful known in the south of England, features an iron spear and a sword in a highly decorated scabbard.

The grave was discovered during excavations ahead of the building of 175 new homes near Chichester.

The team that made the discovery were from Archaeology South-East (ASE), the commercial branch of University College London’s Institute of Archaeology.

ASE archaeologist Jim Stevenson said: “There has been much discussion generally as to who the people buried in the ‘warrior’ tradition may have been in life. Were they really warriors, or just buried with the trappings of one? Although the soil conditions destroyed the skeleton, the items discovered within the grave suggest that the occupant had been an important individual.”

The grave dates back to the late Iron Age/early Roman period (first century BC to AD50). Archaeologists say it is “incredibly rare”, as only a handful are known to exist in the south of England.

X-rays and initial conservation of the sword and scabbard reveal beautiful copper-alloy decoration at the scabbard mouth, which would have been highly visible when the sword was worn in life.

Dotted lines on the X-ray may be the remains of a studded garment worn by the occupant when buried.

This is particularly exciting for the archaeologists, as evidence of clothing rarely survives. The grave also held the remains of a wooden container, preserved as a dark stain, probably used to lower the individual into the grave.

Four ceramic vessels were placed outside this container, but still within the grave. The vessels are jars made from local clays and would usually have been used for food preparation, cooking and storage.

It is likely that they were placed in the grave as containers for funerary offerings, perhaps intended to provide sustenance for the deceased in the afterlife.

Archaeologists hope to find out more about the identity and social status of the individual, and the local area and landscape around that time.