Who is the Mystery Warrior? Novium’s North Bersted Man exhibition reveals secrets of the Iron Age warrior

The secrets of an Iron Age warrior, thought to have been a real-life Asterix resistance fighter, are revealed through a new exhibition at Chichester’s The Novium Museum.

The Mystery Warrior: The North Bersted Man exhibition is at The Novium Museum in Chichester
The Mystery Warrior: The North Bersted Man exhibition is at The Novium Museum in Chichester

Due to the significance of the artefacts, a team of world-class experts has been working with The Novium Museum to analyse and interpret the finds to tell the story of this incredible individual. After years of conservation and scientific analysis, the artefacts will be on display for the first time.

The Mystery Warrior: The North Bersted Man exhibition has been made possible thanks to Berkeley Homes generously donating the finds, a £50,000 grant from The National Lottery Heritage Fund and signature sponsorship from Irwin Mitchell.

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The Mystery Warrior was discovered 12 years ago during archaeological investigations prior to the construction of Berkeley Homes’ Bersted Park. Arguably the most elaborately equipped Iron Age grave ever found in England, archaeologists believe he may have been a refugee French Gallic fighter who fled Julius Caesar’s Roman army as it swept across continental Europe, around 50BC.

The secrets of the North Bersted Man are revealed in a new exhibition at The Novium Museum in Chichester which opened last week

The spectacular finds from the grave will be on display, including a stunning unique openwork headdress and helmet. A replica 3D version of the helmet and headdress topped with a horse hair plume has been created along with a visualisation of this extraordinary man and his weaponry.

A mini-documentary on the making of the exhibition will be on show along with film footage exploring the scientific techniques used to help interpret the Mystery Warrior.

The British Museum and Hampshire Cultural Trust are also supporting the exhibition with a range of exhibits relating to the Iron Age period from their collections.

Thanks to generous funding provided by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, The Novium Museum has programmed a range of free activities and events to accompany the exhibition. The programme includes family days, community days and a lecture series.

Dr Melanie Giles, a senior lecturer in archaeology at the University of Manchester, is one of the experts supporting the project. She said: “This is a unique find in the British Isles and 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 but from the archaeology we believe that he may have been a Frenchman who fought with the Gauls against Caesar and fled that conflict – possibly a real-life Asterix – assisting the resistance with his knowledge of strategy and tactics. He could also have been a British mercenary from Eastern England assisting his allies in France and returning dressed in French-style martial kit.”

James Kenny, Chichester District Council’s archaeologist, has also been supporting the project and was one of the first people to view the grave when it was discovered in North Bersted.

He said: “In more than 30 years of archaeology this is the most spectacular discovery that I have witnessed. What distinguishes this discovery from any other burial in Britain is the breath-taking quality and beauty of the artefacts and the range of his possessions. The warrior had a full suite of weapons, including a stunning sword in a decorated scabbard, a spear and a shield with large bronze boss. One of the most spectacular finds within the burial is the headdress for the helmet. This is decorated with an exquisitely designed bronze openwork crest – a completely unique discovery.”

Councillor Roy Briscoe, cabinet member for community services and culture at Chichester District Council, said: “We are delighted to reveal the Mystery Warrior’s fascinating story for the very first time. The exhibition will explore the life, health and death of the Mystery Warrior and will attempt to explain some of the questions that have been raised by the circumstances of his burial.

“It will illuminate a critical point in Britain’s history — the years immediately preceding the Roman invasion, when the south coast was at the heart of the great events that ultimately shaped Britain as a nation. People can also experience life in the Iron Age through our programme of Mystery Warrior inspired events, family activities and a lecture series, all designed to complement the exhibition.

“We are very grateful to the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Berkeley Homes and Irwin Mitchell for their support in making this exhibition and accompanying programme of events possible.”

Paula James, regional managing partner of Irwin Mitchell’s Chichester office, said: “We are absolutely delighted to be the signature sponsor for this incredible exhibition about the Mystery Warrior, which is undoubtedly one of the most significant archaeological finds in many years. Having previously supported the Novium Museum with its 2017 Tim Peake exhibition, this latest partnership reinforces our commitment to supporting local businesses and investing in Chichester’s future. We hope the Mystery Warrior will bring new visitors from near and far to see the exhibition and that they will enjoy visiting our splendid and historic city.”

Harry Lewis, managing director of Berkeley Homes, said: “This is one of the most significant archaeological discoveries to have been made at one of our sites, and will help connect residents of Bersted Park to the internationally significant heritage of the site.”

The exhibition, at The Novium, in Tower Street, Chichester, runs until September 26. For more information visit www.thenovium.org