British archaeologists find 4,000-year-old bowhunter


Mar 11, 2001
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Wessex Archaeology


The richest Early Bronze Age burial in Britain has been found by astonished archaeologists.

The grave of a mature man was found near Amesbury, Wiltshire and contains far more objects than any other burial of this date, about 2,300 BC.

He has been identified as an archer on the basis of stone arrow heads and stone wristguards that protected the arm from the recoil of the bow. There were also stone tool kits for butchering carcasses, and for making more arrowheads if needed.

According to Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, Project Manager for Wessex Archaeology, what makes the find unique is the quantity and quality of the finds. 'As well as the archery equipment, the man had three copper knives and a pair of gold earrings. We think that the earrings were wrapped around the ear rather than hanging from the ear lobe. These are some of the earliest kinds of metal object found in Britain. They were very rare and the metals they were made from may have been imported. The fact that so many valuable objects have been found together is unique. This association is the most important thing about the find'.

The grave was found in the course of excavations on behalf of Bloor Homes and Persimmon Homes South Coast. Ron Hatchett, Strategic Land Director of Bloor Homes said 'we have worked closely with the archaeologists and have altered our plans to protect known archaeological sites'. Paul Bedford Senior Land and Planning Manager for the Persimmon region added 'it is impossible to predict a unique and exciting find like this.'

The area around Stonehenge is famous for its rich Bronze Age burials. Andrew Lawson, Chief Executive of Wessex Archaeology, points out that this burial is several hundred years earlier than any of them. 'It raises the question of who this archer was and why his mourners buried so many valuable things with him?'

The significance of the burial

The Amesbury Archer is, by a great distance, the most well-furnished Beaker burial found in Britain. Beaker burials have often been considered 'rich' if they contain four or five objects, one of which is of copper or bronze, or of gold.

It is the number of finds, around 100, their early date within the Early Bronze Age, the quality of some of them, and above all the associations between them that is particularly important. All the finds are of well-known types that form the Beaker package that is found across much of central and western Europe.

In a British context the gold earrings (or perhaps tress ornaments) are rare, with only half a dozen other findspots known. The association of three tanged knives - almost certainly of copper rather than bronze - is without parallel, as is the number of Beakers from a single burial. The range of arrowheads, bracers, flints, and spatula are amongst the largest groups of archery equipment found together.

The burial dates to the second half of the third millennium and perhaps nearer to 2,500 cal. BC rather than 2,000 cal. BC, say 2,300 BC.

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