Amesbury Archer Was An Alpine Settler Say Experts

By Jon Pratty | 10 February 2003
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Left: is this the skull a Wessex King? © Wessex Archaeology

Experts have discovered the noble Amesbury Archer, buried 4000 years ago near Stonehenge, was originally from the Alps - probably Switzerland, Austria or Germany.

“We have long suspected that it was people from the continent of Europe who initiated the trade that first brought metalworking to Britain, and the Archer is the first discovery to confirm this," said Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, of Wessex Archaeology, the archaeological consultants responsible for digging the site.

Right: artist Jane Brayne's interpretation of what the archer may have looked like. © Wessex Archaeology

Discovery of the remains in 2002 caused a flurry of archaeological interest. The grave, found three miles from Stonehenge, contained a rich deposit of 100 items of grave goods, including gold earrings.

It was said at the time to have been the richest Bronze Age grave yet found in Northern Europe. Some experts contend the Archer could have been involved in the construction of Stonehenge, though others disagree.

Later, on the same site, another grave was found, this time of a younger man. Detailed examination of the skeleton now shows the younger man was almost certainly related to the Archer, who could have been his father.

Left: tools of his trade - some of the arrowheads found alongside daggers and a wristguard.

The latest findings resulted from tests carried out on the Archer’s teeth and bones and on the objects found in the grave, which included two gold hair tresses, three copper knives, flint arrowheads, wristguards and pottery.

They show he came from the Alps region, and the copper knives came from Spain and France. It's evidence of the wide trade network that existed in the early Bronze Age - and the gold was dated to as early as 2,470BC, the oldest gold objects yet found in Britain.

Tests on the bones carried out by Wessex Archaeology’s own staff showed that the Archer was a man aged between 35 and 45. He was strongly built, but he had an abscess on his jaw and had suffered an accident a few years before his death that had ripped his left knee cap off.

As a result of this he walked with a straight left which swung out to the side of him, and suffered from an infection in his bones which would have caused him constant pain.

Right: these gold ear or hair decorations were found in the grave. More were found in the younger man's grave - nestled inside his jaw bone. © Wessex Archaeology

Other tests on the enamel found on the Archer’s teeth could not reveal how long he had lived in Britain, only that he must have lived in the Alps region while a child.

Other tests were carried out by the British Museum, the National Museums of Wales and Scotland, the British Geological Survey, the National Trust Museum at Avebury and the Universities of Durham, Exeter, Oxford and Southampton.

They showed that the Archer wore animal skins fashioned into a cloak and was buried with pottery made locally, perhaps specially for his funeral.

The importance of the Archer and his grave are detailed in a programme 'King of Stonehenge: A Meet the Ancestors Special' on BBC2 on Wednesday February 19 at 9pm.

Visit the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum to see an award winning Stonehenge display. There's also Devizes Museum and the Dorset County Museum in Dorchester with good collections of prehistoric artefacts to see.

And finally: keep up with further news of the Amesbury Archer on the website of Wessex Archaeology:

Read our previous coverage of this exciting find: Bronze Age Burial Astonishes Archaeologists.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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