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8 October 2010
Stonehenge 'boy with the necklace' was from the Mediterranean

In 2005, excavation for road construction 5 kilometers from Stonehenge unearthed the complete skeleton of a teenage boy. He was lying on his side and wore a unique necklace of 90 amber beads. Now, isotope studies of his teeth have indicated that he grew up in the region around the Mediterranean Sea.
     The excavation was conducted by archaeologists from the British Geological Survey. Professor Jane Evans, the head of this organization describes the find. "He's around 14 or 15 years old and he's buried with this beautiful necklace. The position of his burial, the fact he's near Stonehenge, and the necklace all suggest he's of significant status." She notes that during the Bronze Age, burial at Stonehenge would be akin to modern burial at Westminster Abbey.
     Her conclusion about the high status of the boy is supported by Dr. Andrew Fitzpatrick of Wessex Archaeology, who said: "Amber necklaces are not common finds. Most archaeologists would say that when you find burials like this... People who can get these rare and exotic materials are people of some importance."
     Dental enamel in teeth retains a trace of the isotope ratio of oxygen present in the drinking water consumed during childhood. Strontium isotopes from rocks get into the food supply and can also be measured in teeth. When data from both isotopes are combined, it is possible to trace the origins back to a given region.
     Another skeleton found earlier in the Stonehenge area was also tested in this way. That individual was found to have come from a colder climate, perhaps in the mountains of what is now Germany. Known as the "Amesbury Archer", he carried some of the oldest gold and copper ojects found to date in Britain. His remains were dated to 4,300 years BPE, so he lived 800 years earlier than the boy.
     The presence of two people who traveled a great distance to get to Stonehenge could indicate that it was a very well-know landmark for hundreds of years in the Bronze Age. According to Dr. Fitpatrick, "We see the beginning of the Bronze Age as a period of great mobility across Europe. People, ideas, objects are all moving very fast for a century or two. At the time when the boy with the amber necklace was buried, there are really no new technologies coming in [to Britain]. We need to turn to look at why groups of people - because this is a youngster - are making long journeys. They may be travelling within family groups. They may be coming to visit Stonehenge because it was an incredibly famous and important place, as it is today. But we don't know the answer."

Edited from BBC News (28 September 2010), The Daily Mail (1 October 2010)

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