Men From the West
Like the Amesbury Archer, the enamel on the Bowmen’s teeth has provided the clue as to where they grew up. As different teeth form at different times in childhood every tooth preserves a chemical fingerprint of the local environment at that time.
Pre-molars form after the milk teeth have dropped out, between the age of 3 and 6. Third molars are the last teeth to erupt and form between 9-13.
When the tooth enamel is fixed, the oxygen and strontium isotopes in it are locked into the chemical fingerprint. For pre-molars, this is in early childhood. For the 3rd molars, it is what may be early adolescence.
Although the oxygen isotopes of the Amesbury Archer showed that he came from continental Europe. Other Beaker age people buried near to Stonehenge have been shown to be local. These are burials Stonehenge itself, from Normanton Down, and the Amesbury Archer’s Companion.
Analysis by the British Geological Survey showed that the Boscombe Bowmen’s teeth have a particularly high proportion of the strontium isotope, which shows that grew up in a place with a very high radiogenic, or radioactive background. The radioactivity from the underlying rocks passes into the soils and from there into the food chain.
Such high strontium levels can only be matched in a few places in Britain. In Cornwall, the Isle of Man, the north-west of England, parts of the Scottish Highlands, and Wales.
The oxygen isotopes in our teeth come from drinking water. The character of the isotopes varies according to a number of factors including distance from the sea, height above sea level etc. Because of this, oxygen isotopes are good indicators of the climate a person was living in when the enamel on their teeth formed.
The effect of climate change on oxygen isotopes has to be considered but the changes since the last Ice Age have been too small to make a significant difference.
The Bowmen’s oxygen isotopes are not compatible with the environments of Cornwall and the Isle of Man as they are too warm. Most of Scotland is too cool. The only areas that agree with the strontium levels are the Lake District and north Wales and south-west Wales.
But not only it is possible to show that the Bowmen were in one of these places when they were very young, it can be shown that they migrated. The chemical fingerprints of each Bowman have exactly the same differences between their premolars and their 3rd molar.
The men were in one place up to the age of 6 and in another up to the age of 13. The second place may also have been in Wales. It was not in Wessex. The chemical fingerprint of both of these places is different to that of the chalk geology of Wessex.
Either the Bowmen all moved at the same time over a number of years, or their society regularly moved children between the age of 6 and 13 to live in a different place. They moved nearer to Stonehenge later in their life.
Further tests on the teeth of the children buried with the Bowmen are in progress, but this is already a remarkable picture of prehistoric migration. It is a picture that is entirely consistent with the close similarities in the shape of the men’s skulls that suggests that they are all related.