In May 2002 a routine excavation was carried out by Wessex Archaeology on the site of a proposed school in Amesbury, Wiltshire. The excavation revealed two graves, since dated to the Early Bronze Age (c. 2,300 BC ). The first grave contained the Beaker burial of a man believed to be between 35 and 45 years old. He had suffered a traumatic injury to his left knee, which would have left him disabled and walking with a limp, carrying his weight on his right leg. As a result his left leg had become wasted.
A gold hair ornament found with the archer
The grave is one of the most well-furnished of the Early Bronze Age period in Britain and appears to be of a high status. This is due not only to the quantity of finds (almost 100) but also the quality. The archer was discovered with 3 gold hair ornaments, 2 stone wristguards, a ‘cushion stone’ associated with metalworking, 3 copper knives, 5 beakers with plaited cord or combed surface decoration, a cache of flints and arrowheads, bone objects and a shale belt ring. The finds were in extremely good condition, in particular three of the beakers. The decoration on some of the beakers indicates that they are quite rare.
Some of the beaker pottery found in the grave
The Archer's Companion
The second grave contained the burial of a man believed to have been between 20 and 25 years old when he died. This grave also yielded 2 gold hair ornaments, one placed inside the other. Bone analysis has revealed that the two men shared an unusual bone pathology. Some of the bones in the feet which are not normally articulated, were articulated. This is very rare and would suggest that the men were related in some way.
Flint tools from the cache buried with the archer
Treatment of the Finds
The finds from both burials were treated at the Conservation Service laboratory in Salisbury. Three of the beakers were reconstructed for display, the condition of the remaining two was unfortunately too poor to allow reconstruction. Analysis on the metalwork has been carried out by the British Museum. Oxygen Isotope analysis of the teeth suggests that the archer came from a much colder climate - colder than today. It has been suggested that he may have lived in central Europe, near the Alps. The skeleton is currently undergoing treatment to stabilise it for display. The finds went on touring exhibition as part of the British Museum Treasures exhibition. When they returned they were put on permanent display at Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum along with the skeleton.
Copper dagger found with the burial
The Amesbury Archer goes on display
A permanent display for the Amesbury Archer skeleton and grave goods was built by conservators at the Conservation Service laboratory. The display is intended to represent the burial environment in which the Archer was found and replicates it as far as possible.
A custom-built case, already in place in the Early Man Gallery at Salisbury & South Wilts Museum, houses the final grave display.
The burial consists of a box made from medium density fibreboard (MDF). This has been painted with a layer of a special protective varnish to seal the surface. An aluminium mesh has been stapled to the MDF and padded with acid free tissue behind to represent the uneven nature of the soil in the burial environment. This was then covered with a fabric layer before a layer of plaster was added over the top. This surface was then painted with an acrylic emulsion to represent the grave surface.
The burial was constructed in two halves so that it could be easily transported to the museum and assembled. It can also be dismantled easily if necessary.
The grave will form a permanent display area for the Amesbury Archer in the Early Man Gallery at Salisbury & South Wilts Museum and can be viewed daily.
The finished grave
Beaker - the name associated with a group of people who lived in the Bronze Age and buried their dead in round barrows. Ceramic beakers were characteristically found in graves of this period.
articulated - literally, connected by a series of joints.
oxygen isotope analysis - There are 3 isotopes found in oxygen. Our bodies are partly made up of oxygen, taken in during breathing, eating and drinking. The oxygen found in our teeth mainly comes from drinking water which in turn comes predominantly from rain or snow. Oxygen isotopes contained within this water depend on the distance from the coast, altitude and temperature. By analysing this oxygen and comparing it to standard oxygen isotope maps, scientists can determine the area and type of climate in which a person lived.