`The Amesbury Archer': A Well-Furnished Early Bronze Age Burial in Southern England. (News & Notes)

By Fitzpatrick, A. P. | Antiquity, September 2002 | Go to article overview

`The Amesbury Archer': A Well-Furnished Early Bronze Age Burial in Southern England. (News & Notes)


Fitzpatrick, A. P., Antiquity


The `richest' Beaker (or Early Bronze Age) burial yet found in Britain was excavated this May at Boscombe Down, near Amesbury, Wiltshire. In a blaze of publicity (www.wessexarch.co.uk) the media promptly christened the dead man `The Amesbury Archer', and The Daily Mail anointed him `King of Stonehenge?'

When he died, the Amesbury Archer was approximately 35-50 years old. There is no surviving evidence to suggest that his grave was covered by a barrow, but as there is evidence for a timber mortuary chamber, there may once have been a small mound of earth or turf.

His mourners buried him in a flexed position on his left hand side and with his face to the north. On his forearm was a black `wristguard' or `bracer', perhaps to protect his arm from the recoil of a bow; perhaps a symbol of status. A bone pin next to the wristguard may have fastened a cloak or mantle. A small, tanged, copper knife found close to the pin may have been worn on his chest.

Within touching distance of the dead man's face were two Beakers, an antler spatula for working flints, boar's tusks, a cache of flints and another tanged copper knife. Some, perhaps all, of these things are likely to have been in a bag or container. Many of the flints were tools, including knives, scrapers, arrowhead blanks, unused flakes and a nodule of iron from a strike-a-light.

Behind his back lay a third Beaker, boar's tusks, and another cache of flint tools and flakes, many of which had been used. Alongside them was a stone, perhaps a cushion stone for metalworking.

The 15 arrowheads found at a slightly higher level suggest that a quiver of arrows had been scattered over the Archer's waist and legs.

Two more Beakers lay at the man's bottom and feet. By his knees were a red wristguard, a third tanged copper knife, a shale beltring and two gold `basket earrings', which may together represent a costume or regalia placed next to the corpse.

The significance of the burial

The Archer's grave is the most well-furnished Beaker burial yet found in Britain. Previously burials had been considered `rich' if they contained more than a handful of objects, one of which was of copper/bronze, or gold.

It is the number of finds, almost 100 (mainly of flint), their early date, the quality of some and, above all, the associations between them, that are particularly important. The finds are of well-known types in the Beaker `package' found across much of central and western Europe. …

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