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More Amesbury Archer details as ‘Prince of Stonehenge’ secrets are revealed

More secrets of the Amesbury Archer - the burial site that astonished archaeologists with its rich Bronze Age finds - are to be revealed.

Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, of Wessex Archaeology, who has overseen work on the burial site, will give a public talk on the latest discoveries at the site, which dates back to 2,300BC.

The Amesbury Archer skeleton provoked international interest from the media who dubbed him ‘the King of Stonehenge’ when the find was announced.

The grave, near Amesbury, Wiltshire, contained around a hundred objects - a dozen would have been considered a good find - making it the richest early Bronze Age burial site in Britain.

His burial site is the first evidence of an elite with the power to organise the great temples of the early Bronze Age, including Stonehenge, which used huge stones brought by enormous effort from Wales.

At a special lecture at Salisbury Museum on Saturday September 28, Dr Fitzpatrick will give full details of a second find at the site. This was the skeleton of a 30-year-old man which was discovered close to the Amesbury Archer and dates back to the same time.

As his skeleton was being cleaned in the laboratory, archaeologists were surprised to find, trapped in dirt inside the man’s jaw, a pair of gold earrings.

“These are some of the earliest kinds of metal object found in Britain,” said Dr Fitzpatrick. “They were very rare and the fact that so many valuable objects have been found together in both graves is unique. My talk at the open day will give full details of these finds.

“We’ve no doubt that the second skeleton is important too and we look forward to seeing if the media will call him the ‘Prince of Stonehenge’.”

Tests reveal Amesbury Archer ‘King of Stonehenge’ was a settler from the Alps

The man who may have helped organise the building of Stonehenge was a settler from continental Europe, archaeologists say.

The Amesbury Archer: pilgrim or magician?

Welcome to the Wessex Archaeology website. To coincide with the new BBC Timewatch programme on Stonehenge, made in collaboration with the Open University and the Smithsonian Institute, we are presenting a summary of one of our key finds, the Amesbury Archer.

Are the new theories about this extraordinary discovery better than the old ones? Or are they just different?

And what of another key find that yet to figure in the debate? Were the Boscombe Bowmen some of the builders of Stonehenge who came from Wales. Or were they pilgrims to Stonehenge who came from France?

Read our blog post about the Archer and Bowmen, and have your say!

 

Test Results

The latest tests on the Amesbury Archer, whose grave astonished archaeologists last year with the richness of its contents, show he was originally from the Alps region, probably Switzerland, Austria or Germany. The tests also show that the gold hair tresses found in the grave are the earliest gold objects found in Britain.

The grave of the Archer, who lived around 2,300BC, contained about 100 items, more than ten times as many objects as any other burial site from this time. When details were released, the media dubbed the Archer “The King of Stonehenge”.

The grave was found three miles from Stonehenge, near Amesbury in Wiltshire, last May during an excavation by Wessex Archaeology, based nearby at Salisbury, in advance of the building of a new housing scheme and school.

The Archer was obviously an important man, and because he lived at the same time that the stones at Stonehenge were first being built, archaeologists believe he may have been involved in its creation.

Tests were carried out on the Archer’s teeth and bones and on the objects found in the grave, which included two gold hair tresses, three copper knives, flint arrowheads, wristguards and pottery. They show that he came from the Alps region, and that the copper knives came from Spain and France. This is evidence of the wide trade network that existed in the early Bronze Age. The gold dated to as early as 2,470BC, the earliest gold objects found in Britain.

Stonehenge was begun in the late Stone Age, around 3,000BC, as a ditch and a bank enclosing an open space. In about 2,300BC – approximately the time the Archer died –the world-famous stones were erected, the large 20-tonne Sarsen stones from the Marlborough Downs nearby and the smaller four-tonne Bluestones from Preseli in west Wales. How the Bluestones were transported 240 miles (380 kilometres) is not yet known.

The importance of the Archer and his grave were detailed in a programme 'King of Stonehenge: A Meet the Ancestors Special' on BBC2.

Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, of Wessex Archaeology, said: “This was a time of great change in Britain – the skills of metalworking were being brought here from abroad and great monuments such as Stonehenge were being built.

“We have long suspected that it was people from the continent of Europe who initiated the trade that first brought metalworking to Britain, and the Archer is the first discovery to confirm this.

“He would have been a very important person in the Stonehenge area and it is fascinating to think that someone from abroad – probably modern day Switzerland – could well have played an important part in the construction of Britain’s most famous archaeological site.”

The Archer was an example of the spread of the Beaker culture from the continent, marked by a new style of pottery, the use of barbed flat arrow heads, copper knives and small gold ornaments.

Tests on the bones carried out by Wessex Archaeology’s own staff showed that the Archer was a man aged between 35 and 45. He was strongly built, but he had an abscess on his jaw and had suffered an accident a few years before his death that had ripped his left knee cap off. As a result of this he walked with a straight left which swung out to the side of him, and suffered from an infection in his bones which would have caused him constant pain.

Other tests on the enamel found on the Archer’s teeth could not reveal how long he had lived in Britain, only that he must have lived in the Alps region while a child. He was most probably from what is now Switzerland, although it is possible he could have come from areas of Germany near Switzerland or Austria.

The Amesbury Archer's companion - jawbone with gold earring

Also found at the site was a second skeleton of a younger man, aged 20 to 25. Two gold hair tresses were found lodged in mud in his jaw. Bone analysis showed he and the Archer were related and it is likely they were father and son. Analysis of his teeth show he grew up in southern England but may have spent his late teens in the Midlands or north-east Scotland.

Other tests were carried out by the British Museum, the National Museums of Wales and Scotland, the British Geological Survey, the National Trust Museum at Avebury and the Universities of Durham, Exeter, Oxford and Southampton. They showed that the Archer wore animal skins fashioned into a cloak and was buried with pottery made locally, perhaps specially for his funeral.

The Amesbury Archer

4,000 YEAR OLD ARCHER WITH GOLDEN EARRINGS

The richest Early Bronze Age burial in Britain has been found by astonished archaeologists.

The grave of a mature man was found near Amesbury, Wiltshire and contains far more objects than any other burial of this date, about 2,300 BC.

He has been identified as an archer on the basis of stone arrow heads and stone wristguards that protected the arm from the recoil of the bow. There were also stone tool kits for butchering carcasses, and for making more arrowheads if needed.

According to Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, Project Manager for Wessex Archaeology, what makes the find unique is the quantity and quality of the finds. 'As well as the archery equipment, the man had three copper knives and a pair of gold earrings. We think that the earrings were wrapped around the ear rather than hanging from the ear lobe. These are some of the earliest kinds of metal object found in Britain. They were very rare and the metals they were made from may have been imported. The fact that so many valuable objects have been found together is unique. This association is the most important thing about the find'.

The grave was found in the course of excavations on behalf of Bloor Homes and Persimmon Homes South Coast. Ron Hatchett, Strategic Land Director of Bloor Homes said 'we have worked closely with the archaeologists and have altered our plans to protect known archaeological sites'. Paul Bedford Senior Land and Planning Manager for the Persimmon region added 'it is impossible to predict a unique and exciting find like this.'

The area around Stonehenge is famous for its rich Bronze Age burials. Andrew Lawson, Chief Executive of Wessex Archaeology, points out that this burial is several hundred years earlier than any of them. 'It raises the question of who this archer was and why his mourners buried so many valuable things with him?'

Detail and interpetation of the Archer's graveClick to view an image of the Archer's copper knives Click to view an image of the Archer's copper knives Click to see an image on one of the Archer's earrings Click to see a close-up of one of the decorated beaker fragments Click to see a close-up of one of the decorated beaker fragments Click to see a close-up of one of the decorated beaker fragments Click to see a close-up of one of the decorated beaker fragments Click to see a close-up of the Archer's wristguards. Click to see a close-up of the Archer's wristguards. Image not yet available Image not yet available Image not yet available Image not yet available Cushion Stone

The background

On May 3rd 2002, archaeologists from Wessex Archaeology found the grave of a man dating back to around 2,300BC, the Early Bronze Age in Britain, at Amesbury in Wiltshire, England. This lies three miles south-east of Stonehenge.
 
The grave contained the richest array of items ever found from this period.
 
In the grave were:
  • the complete skeleton of a man
  • three copper knives
  • two small gold hair tresses
  • a cushion stone used for metal working
  • two sandstone wristguards to protect his wrists from the bow string
  • 16 barbed and tanged flint arrowheads (tang is the protrusion which fixed the arrowhead to the arrow itself)
  • a bone pin which would have been used to hold a piece of clothing such as a leather cloak
  • five Beaker pots
  • a red deer spatula used for working flints
  • four boars’ tusks
  • many flint tools and flakes
  • The grave was probably lined with timber which has not survived. Any organic objects such as leather and human flesh have rotted away.
With around 100 objects, this makes the grave the richest Bronze Age find in Britain – there are ten times the usual number of finds from other graves. The gold dated to as early as 2,470BC and is the earliest found in Britain. It seems likely that the objects were buried with the man, dubbed the Amesbury Archer, or the King of Stonehenge, for his use in the next life. It may be that the grave was covered by a mound, or barrow which was subsequently flattened.
 
The archaeologists were excavating in advance of a scheme to build houses and a school at Amesbury for Bloor Homes and Persimmon Homes South Coast. It is a requirement under planning regulations that developers have the land they are building on surveyed for archaeological remains and have these excavated.
 
The archaeologists were expected remains from Roman times from a cemetery at the site, but were surprised to find Beaker pottery – a style from the Early Bronze Age. On Friday May 3rd they began work in the morning and by mid-afternoon they found a gold hair tress. Excitement grew and the archaeologists pressed on, knowing they could not leave the site unattended over the weekend in case it was interfered with. They finally finished the excavation by car headlights at just before 2am. The Amesbury Archer had made another appearance.
 
Tests on the bones showed that the Archer was a man aged between 35 and 45. He was strongly built, but he had an abscess on his jaw and had suffered an accident a few years before his death that had ripped his left knee cap off. As a result of this he walked with a straight left which swung out to the side of him, and suffered from an infection in his bones which would have caused him constant pain.
 
Other tests on the enamel found on the Archer’s teeth revealed that he grew up in central Europe. They could not reveal how long he had lived in Britain, only that he must have lived in the Alps region while a child. He was probably from what is now Switzerland, Germany or Austria.
 
It is likely that the Archer wore animal skins fashioned into a cloak and was buried with pottery made locally, perhaps specially for his funeral.
 
Also found close to the Archer’s burial was a second skeleton of a younger man, aged 20 to 25. Two gold hair tresses were found lodged in mud in his jaw. Bone analysis showed he and the Archer were related and it is likely they were father and son. Analysis of his teeth show he grew up in southern England but may have spent his late teens in the Midlands or north-east Scotland.
 
The tests were carried out by Wessex Archaeology’s own staff, the British Museum, the National Museums of Wales and Scotland, the British Geological Survey, the National Trust Museum at Avebury and the Universities of Durham, Exeter, Oxford and Southampton.
 
The Archer is important because he is the first example of a powerful elite who may well have organised the erection of Stonehenge. Stonehenge was begun in the late Stone Age, around 3,000BC, as a ditch and a bank enclosing an open space, but in about 2,300BC the world-famous stones were erected, the large 20-tonne Sarsen stones from the Marlborough Downs nearby and the smaller four-tonne Bluestones from Preseli in west Wales. How the Bluestones were transported 240 miles (380 kilometres) is not yet known.
 
The Archer is an example of people from abroad bringing the Beaker culture – with its distinctive pottery and the first copper and gold objects – from the continent to Britain. The enormous wealth of the goods in his grave reveals to archaeologists the growing differences in wealth in society at this time.
 
Wessex Archaeology is a practice of commercial archaeologists based near Salisbury, Wiltshire, England. It provides a wide variety of archaeological services for clients including housing developers and heritage organisations. The services include excavation, evaluation, assessments of existing records, marine archaeology and building surveys. It is also a registered charity with a remit to educated the public in archaeology. It began in 1979 and employs more than 150 archaeologists.

Treasure Inquest on the Amesbury Archer

The Coroner for Wiltshire and Swindon (Mr David Masters) held an inquest in Amesbury, Wiltshire on August 19th, 2002, and declared the objects buried with the Amesbury Archer as treasure.
 
In May archaeologists were stunned by the discovery of the richest Early Bronze Age burial in Britain just a few miles from Stonehenge. The 35-50 year old man had ten times as many objects buried with him than any other person of this date, about 4,300 years ago. Until then archaeologists had not imagined that there were such wealthy and powerful people at this time.
 
Dubbed ‘the Amesbury Archer’ because of the archery kit buried with him, the dead man also had a pair of gold earrings. Under the 1996 Treasure Act any object at least 300 years old which has a metallic content of which at least 10% by weight is of precious metal (gold and silver) is treasure.
 
The excavator, Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick of Wessex Archaeology, said ‘the earrings are likely to be 90% gold. This style of jewellery has only been found in England and Scotland. Where the gold came from is not yet known; Ireland, Spain or Wales are all possible sources. What is certain is that the earrings were precious and exotic. Most people would never have seen gold before.’
 
The story took another twist after the excavations had finished. The archaeologists were confident that the burial of a 25-30 year old man near to the Archer’s was of the same date. What the archaeologists did not expect was, as the skeleton was being cleaned in the laboratory, the discovery of a pair of gold earrings inside the man’s jaw.
 
Dr Fitzpatrick added ‘the new earrings are the same style as the Archer’s. Only half a dozen finds of these earrings have ever been made before. Yet here, side by side, are the graves of two men with these symbols of power. We will be looking to DNA analyses to say if these two men were linked genetically.’

A second set of gold earrings were found inside the individual's jaw, whilst being cleaned in the laboratoryA second set of gold earrings were found inside the individual's jaw, whilst being cleaned in the laboratory