Displayed in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum
|Discovered||May 2002, Amesbury|
|Present location||Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum|
The Amesbury Archer is an early Bronze Age man whose grave was discovered during excavations at the site of a new housing development in Amesbury near Stonehenge. The grave was uncovered in May 2002, and the man is believed to date from about 2300 BC. He is nicknamed the "archer" because of the many arrowheads that were among the artefacts buried with him. Had he lived near the Stones, the calibrated radiocarbon dates for his grave and dating of Stonehenge suggest the sarsens and trilithons at Stonehenge may have been raised by the time he was born, although a new bluestone circle may have been raised at the same time as his birth.
His grave had the greatest number of artefacts ever found in a British Bronze Age burial. Among those discovered were: Five funerary pots of the type associated with the "Beaker culture"; three tiny copper knives; 16 barbed flint arrowheads; a kit of flint-knapping and metalworking tools, including cushion stones that functioned as a kind of portable anvil and that suggests he was a coppersmith; and some boar's tusks. On his forearm was a black Stone wrist-guard. A similar red wrist-guard was by his knees. With the second wrist-guard was a shale belt ring and a pair of gold hair ornaments (the earliest gold objects ever found in England).
Research using oxygen isotope analysis in his tooth enamel suggests that the man may have originated from an alpine region of central Europe. An eroded hole in his jaw showed that in life he had suffered from an abscess, and his missing left kneecap suggests that he had an injury that left him with a painful lingering bone infection.
A younger male believed to be related (they shared a rare hereditary anomaly, namely that both had calcaneonavicular coalition (fusing) of the calcaneus and of the navicular tarsal (foot bones)) was interred nearby. This man however appears to have been raised in a more local climate. The former was estimated to be about 40 at the time of his death, while the latter was in his early twenties. The graves were discovered only a short distance from the Boscombe Bowmen who were excavated the following year.
The importance of the burials
The Archer was quickly dubbed the King of Stonehenge in the British press due to the proximity of the famous monument and some have even claimed he may have been involved in its construction. However, this cannot be known for sure and more recently archaeologists have reconsidered the idea. His is just one high profile burial that dates from the time of the stones' erection, but given the lavish nature of the grave his mourners clearly considered him important enough to be buried near to (if not in the immediate area of) Stonehenge. Tim Darvill regards the skeleton as possibly that of a pilgrim to Stonehenge to draw on the 'healing properties' of the bluestones.
However his grave is of particular importance because of its connections with Continental Europe and early copper smelting technology. He is believed to have been one of the earliest metalworkers in Britain and his discovery supports interpreters who claim that the diffusion of Beaker Culture pottery was the result of population movement, rather than just the widespread adoption of an artefact 'package'.
- Wessex Archaeology The Amesbury Archer: Background
- Pearson et al, p627
- Morgan, James (21 September 2008). "BBC News: Dig Pinpoints Stonehenge Origins". Retrieved 15 June 2009.
- Wessex Archaeology The Archer’s Burial
- Wessex Archaeology The Archer’s Companion
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- Wessex Archaeology The Importance of the Finds
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