reveal Amesbury Archer ‘King of Stonehenge’ was a settler
from the Alps
The man who may have helped organise the building of Stonehenge
was a settler from continental Europe, archaeologists say.
The latest tests on the Amesbury Archer, whose grave astonished
archaeologists last year with the richness of its contents, show
he was originally from the Alps region, probably Switzerland, Austria
or Germany. The tests also show that the gold hair tresses found
in the grave are the earliest gold objects found in Britain.
The grave of the Archer, who lived around 2,300BC, contained about
100 items, more than ten times as many objects as any other burial
site from this time. When details were released, the media dubbed
the Archer “The King of Stonehenge”.
The grave was found three miles from Stonehenge, near Amesbury
in Wiltshire, last May during an excavation by Wessex Archaeology,
based nearby at Salisbury, in advance of the building of a new housing
scheme and school.
The Archer was obviously an important man, and because he lived
at the same time that the stones at Stonehenge were first being
built, archaeologists believe he may have been involved in its creation.
Tests were 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 that he came from the Alps region, and that the
copper knives came from Spain and France. This is evidence of the
wide trade network that existed in the early Bronze Age. The gold
dated to as early as 2,470BC, the earliest gold objects found in
Stonehenge was begun in the late Stone Age, around 3,000BC, as
a ditch and a bank enclosing an open space. In about 2,300BC –
approximately the time the Archer died –the world-famous stones
were erected, the large 20-tonne Sarsen stones from the Marlborough
Downs nearby and the smaller four-tonne Bluestones from Preseli
in west Wales. How the Bluestones were transported 240 miles (380
kilometres) is not yet known.
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.
Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, of Wessex Archaeology, said: “This
was a time of great change in Britain – the skills of metalworking
were being brought here from abroad and great monuments such as
Stonehenge were being built.
“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.
“He would have been a very important person in the Stonehenge
area and it is fascinating to think that someone from abroad –
probably modern day Switzerland – could well have played an
important part in the construction of Britain’s most famous
The Archer was an example of the spread of the Beaker culture from
the continent, marked by a new style of pottery, the use of barbed
flat arrow heads, copper knives and small gold ornaments.
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.
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. He was most probably from
what is now Switzerland, although it is possible he could have come
from areas of Germany near Switzerland or Austria.
Also found at the site was a second skeleton of a younger man,
aged 20 to 25. Two gold hair tresses were found lodged in mud in
his jaw. Bone analysis showed he and the Archer were related and
it is likely they were father and son. Analysis of his teeth show
he grew up in southern England but may have spent his late teens
in the Midlands or north-east Scotland.
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.
History and Geography of Human Genes
(Princeton University Press)
by L. Luca Cavalli-Sforza,
Paolo Menozzi, and Alberto Piazza
Winner of the 1994 R.R. Hawkins Award
Nothing less than the first genetic atlas of the world....
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