Stonehenge sun-disc from the dawn of history goes on display in Wiltshire for summer solstice

By Edward Lowton Published: 19 June 2015

Wiltshire Museum will exhibit a gold 'Stonehenge sun-disc', which may have been worn on clothing or a head-dress

Photo of a gold disc with a cross
The gold sun-disc dates from the time of Stonehenge© Wiltshire Museum
Marking this year’s summer solstice an early Bronze Age sun-disc, one of the earliest metal objects found in Britain, has gone on display for the first time at Wiltshire Museum.

Archaeologists believe the disc was forged in about 2,400 BC, soon after the great sarsen stones were put up at Stonehenge. It is thought it was worn on clothing to represent the sun.

The sun-disc, one of only six such finds, was discovered in a burial mound at Monkton Farleigh, just 20 miles from Stonehenge.

It was found during excavations by Guy Underwood in 1947 along with a pottery beaker, flint arrowheads and fragments of the skeleton of an adult male.

Preserved by Dr Denis Whitehead since its discovery, the sun-disc was seen by the museum's archaeologists the first time was when he brought it to the opening of the Prehistory Galleries in 2013.

It joins and unparallelled collection of Bronze Age treasures at the Museum dating to the time of Stonehenge and worn by people who worshiped inside the stone circle. Chief among them are the famous golden Bush Barrow treasures found in the Normanton Down Barrows less than a mile from Stonehenge.

“We have the best Bronze Age collections in Britain and we are delighted to be able to display this incredibly rare sun-disk through the generosity of the donors,” said David Dawson, Museum Director.

Photo of a prehistoric monument located in Wiltshire, England
Sunset at Stonehenge, 20 miles from where the sun-disc was found © Peter Trimming
The sun-disc is a thin embossed sheet of gold with a cross at the centre, surrounded by a circle. Between the lines of both the cross and the circle are fine dots which glint in sunlight.

Pierced by two holes, it is thought the disc, which is the size of a two pence piece and not much thicker than aluminium cooking foil, could have been sewn to a piece of clothing or a head-dress.

Until recently it had been presumed that early Bronze Age gold may have come from Ireland, but thanks to new scientific techniques developed at Southampton University evidence suggests the gold may have originated from Cornwall.

Presented to the museum in memory of Dr Whitehead, it has now been cleaned by the Wiltshire Council Conservation Service and placed on display in time for this year’s mid-summer solstice.

For more information visit, wiltshiremuseum.org.uk/.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

More from Culture24's Archaeology section:

Ancient gold shows prehistoric trading route existed between Cornwall and Ireland, say experts

Return of the ring: Iron Age "crown jewel" which is one of Britain's finest torcs goes back on display

Solving a Dark Age mystery: 7th century Christians, Pagans and the search for the Battle of Hatfield
More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned: