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The importance of the finds
The Amesbury Archer is important for many reasons. His grave is the richest of any found from the Early Bronze Age (about 2,400-1,500BC), the period that immediately followed the Neolithic, or Late Stone Age (4,000BC-2,400BC).
This was a time when the first metals were brought to Britain, and the Archer was buried with two gold hair tresses which are the oldest securely dated gold ever found in Britain (dated to around 2,400BC).
The Archer was important for another reason: he was buried three miles from Stonehenge at the very time when the massive stones were being brought to Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire to erect the world-famous monument.
Stonehenge was begun 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.
It is possible that the Archer was linked closely to the stones: he may have had a hand in planning the monument, or at helping erect the stones; perhaps he was drawn to the area because the stones had just been erected. He would certainly have been well acquainted with the site, and other monuments nearby such as Woodhenge, Durrington Walls and Avebury.
Perhaps the most significant fact about the Archer is that he was from the Alps region. 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. Archaeologists have long known that the distinctive Beaker pottery and artefacts which began appearing in Britain around the time of the Archer were from Europe. At first they thought this was as a result of an invasion, but more recently the attribute this to trade and cultural links.
The Archer is thus example of people from abroad bringing the Beaker culture from the continent to Britain. He was more than just a trader, though. He came with the vital skills of metworking, and that would have given him great status in the eyes of local people. He would have been one of the first people in Britain to have been able to work gold. Hence the richness of his grave; he may not have owned all the objects placed there – some may have been put in by other people as a way of marking the his status.
We do not know how long the Archer lived in Britain. It is certain that he spent his childhood in central Europe. The fact that the skeleton of a close relative of his who was found nearby, grew up in Britain suggests the Archer may have been here for some time.
Lastly, the enormous wealth of the goods in his grave reveals to archaeologists the growing differences in wealth and status in society at this time; the Stone Age had been a time of relative equality.
Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, of Wessex Archaeology, said: “This was a time of great change in Britain – the first metals 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 copper and gold 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 or Switzerland, Germany or Austria – could well have played an important part in the construction of Britain’s most famous archaeological site.”