| 8 February 2004
Amesbury archer was a settler from the Alps
The latest tests on the Amesbury Archer, whose grave was found three miles from Stonehenge and it 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 2,300 BCE, 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 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 2,470 BCE, the earliest gold objects found in Britain.
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. 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 archaeological site." 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 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 showed that the Archer wore animal skins fashioned into a cloak and was buried with pottery made locally, perhaps specially for his funeral.
Source: Popular Science (8 February 2004)
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