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Amesbury Archer
Amesbury Archer - Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum.jpg
Displayed in the Salisbury Museum
Discovered May 2002, Amesbury
Present location Salisbury Museum

The Amesbury Archer is an early Bronze Age man whose grave was discovered during excavations at the site of a new housing development in Amesbury near Stonehenge. The grave was uncovered in May 2002, and the man is believed to date from about 2300 BC. He is nicknamed "the Archer" because of the many arrowheads buried with him. The grave contained more artefacts than any other early British Bronze Age burial, including the earliest known gold objects ever found in England.

The calibrated radiocarbon dates for his grave and dating of Stonehenge suggest the sarsens and trilithons at Stonehenge may have been raised by the time he was born, although a new bluestone circle may have been raised at the same time as his birth.

Burial

The Archer's grave yielded the greatest number of artefacts ever found in a burial from this period (the Early Bronze Age) in Britain. Among those discovered were: five funerary pots of the type associated with the Beaker culture; three tiny copper knives; sixteen barbed flint arrowheads; a kit of flint-knapping and metalworking tools, including cushion stones that functioned as a kind of portable anvil and that suggest he was a coppersmith; and some boar's tusks. On his forearm was a black stone wrist-guard. A similar red wrist-guard was by his knees. With the second wrist-guard was a shale belt ring and a pair of gold hair ornaments, the earliest gold objects ever found in England.

Research using oxygen isotope analysis in the Archer's tooth enamel has suggested that he originated from an alpine region of central Europe. An eroded hole in his jaw showed that he had suffered from an abscess, and his missing left kneecap suggests that he had an injury that left him with a painful lingering bone infection.

His skeleton is now on display at the Salisbury Museum in Salisbury.

Second burial

A male skeleton found interred nearby is believed to be that of a younger man related to the Archer, as they shared a rare hereditary anomaly, calcaneonavicular coalition, fusing of the calcaneus and of the navicular tarsal (foot bones). This younger man, sometimes called the Archer's Companion, appears to have been raised in a more local climate. The Archer was estimated to be about forty at the time of his death, while his companion was in his early twenties. The graves were discovered only a short distance from the Boscombe Bowmen, whose bones were excavated the following year.

Importance of the burials

The Archer was quickly dubbed the King of Stonehenge in the British press due to the proximity of the famous monument and some have even suggested that he could have been involved in its construction.

However, this cannot be known for sure and more recently archaeologists have reconsidered the idea. His is just one high-profile burial that dates from the time of the stones' erection, but given the lavish nature of the grave his mourners clearly considered him important enough to be buried near to (if not in the immediate area of) Stonehenge. Tim Darvill regards the skeleton as possibly that of a pilgrim to Stonehenge to draw on the 'healing properties' of the bluestones.

However his grave is of particular importance because of its connections with Continental Europe and early copper smelting technology. He is believed to have been one of the earliest gold metalworkers in Britain and his discovery supports interpreters who claim that the diffusion of Beaker Culture pottery was the result of population movement, rather than just the widespread adoption of an artefact 'package'.

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