Metalworker or Shaman: Early Bronze Age Upton Loveli G2a Burial

Article excerpt

The Early Bronze Age barrow, Upton Lovell G2a, on Upton Lovell Down near the south western edge of Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, was one of the first to be investigated by William Cunnington (Cunnington 1806). His excavation in May 1802 revealed an extended primary inhumation of a stout male, accompanied near the feet by a large number of perforated bone points, three flint axes and a number of stones. These included fragments of a broken stone battle axe. At the chest was a complete stone battle axe and a circular stone with bevelled edges and polished surface. Also found were a jet or lignite ring and biconical beads, and a small bronze awl. The grave was listed by Piggott (1938: grave 82) as one of the burials defining his Wessex Culture.

By its extended nature, and the association of many perforated bone pendants and natural hollow flint nodules, the burial was interpreted by Piggott (1962) as that of a shaman. Following this view, the present display of the grave-goods in the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society Museum at Devizes is accompanied by a full-size artist's impression of a shaman figure holding aloft the round bevelled stone from the grave group, with the lower cloak hem fringed with bone points. Perhaps more importantly, Piggott (1973: 344, 362) also recognized that various stones from this grave, including the polished circular stone, formed an early metalworker's toolkit, a virtually unique find for the Early Bronze Age in England.

Amongst the toolkit stones, Thurnham (1870: 425f) previously had noticed the presence of gold traces on a small slate burnisher (Cunnington 1806: plate III 2; DM 1406; FIGURE 1), raising the possibility that the tools may have been used in the manufacture of some of the well-known Wessex Early Bronze Age (EBA) goldwork. These gold ornaments have been argued as being the output of one person or a small workshop (Coles & Taylor 1971). It should be noted that gold traces have been found also on a number of EBA whetstones(1). The main problem with the presence of gold on an ancient object is proving it is contemporary with the object's original use and not applied since excavation.


The gold traces on the slate burnisher (FIGURE 2) are thin streaks that are consistent with its use to finish the edge of a piece of thin gold sheet of the type used for the EBA goldwork of the region. The tool itself appears to have been used principally as a coarse burnisher, from the use-wear evidence at its lower edge (FIGURE 1), with goldworking not necessarily its primary function. …