THE 2,000-year-old grave of an Iron Age warrior has been discovered in the trenches of a new housing development.
The discovery by archaeologists is thought to indicate a burial site unique in the UK – and so important that the find was kept under wraps until the delicate process of moving the remains to a laboratory had been completed.
This was for fear of illegal treasure-hunters descending on North Bersted, Bognor Regis.
Archaeologists believe the remains, from between 40AD and 60AD, are of a wealthy man in his 30s who was either a highly decorated soldier or a member of an extremely important family, maybe even a prince.
He was buried with a rich array of Roman goods including a Montefortino helmet – only ever previously found on the continent – a shield and highly-decorated lattice sheets.
The helmet and shield suggest he may have been sent to Britain by his family to be educated or fight.
The lattice work, which may have covered the shield, is of particular significance and Mark Taylor, senior archaeologist at West Sussex County Council, said nothing to rival it has been discovered in Europe before.
'This is a spectacular find in terms of burial,' said Mr Taylor. At the moment we don't think there are any obvious parallels for this material.
'There will now be meticulous analysis of what has been found which we hope can help us discover more.'
Pottery jars were also found in what appears to have been an iron burial casket. They were probably filled with offerings to the gods or food for the afterlife.
Because of previous rich archaeological finds in Sussex, Berkeley Homes and Persimmon Homes had to organise the archaeological dig as part of planning conditions for 650 homes on former farmland.
The development will still go ahead but excavation work will continue until the end of September.
The skeleton has been sent to Thames Valley Archaeological Services, which unearthed the grave, and the helmet, shield and lattice work have been sent to a laboratory in Salisbury for detailed analysis.
Margaret Rule, one of the country's leading archaeologists, said she was excited by the find. She said: 'It seems very interesting, and it's certainly lavish. The area of Chichester has a rich iron age history so I hope they keep working and uncover more artefacts.'