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Science
UNEARTHING MYSTERIES
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Was the Amesbury Archer the 'King of Stonehenge'?

Tuesday 11.00-11.30am 19 November 2002

Aubrey Manning presents a new series of
archaeological mysteries from around the world.

Excavation of the Amesbury Archer © 2002 Wessex Archaeology
Excavation of the Amesbury Archer © 2002 Wessex Archaeology

3. The Amesbury Archer

Aubrey Manning investigates the richest early Bronze Age burial ever found in Britain. The so-called Amesbury Archer was buried with gold earrings, copper knives, flint arrow heads and the stone wrist guards of an Archer. But who was he and what was his connection with Stonehenge which was being constructed only a few miles away at the time? Could he be 'The King of Stonehenge'?

Aubrey Manning, Andrew Fitzpatrick and Rachael Seager-Smith.
Left: Andrew Fitzpatrick compares the Archer's wasted left femur with Aubrey Manning's thigh. Right: Rachael Seager-Smith shows Aubrey the archer's skull.

On May 3rd of this year, excavators from Wessex Archaeology were working near Amesbury on Salisbury plain, just next to the RAF Boscombe Down airfield. The site was being cleared to build new houses and a school and the archaeologists already knew that there was a Roman cemetery there. What they did not expect was the richest early Bronze Age burial ever found in Britain. They first discovered the stone arrow heads laid on his body, then, in front of the skeleton, which seemed to be lying comfortably on its side, they caught the glint of gold from what were probably earrings. By the early hours of the following morning, excavating under car headlights, they had unearthed a rich hoard including five pottery beakers, three copper knives, flint tools and slate wrist guards that suggested that the man buried there had been an archer.


Artist Jane Brayne's depiction of how the Amesbury Archer might have looked and a gold earring from the second burial
Left: Artist Jane Brayne's depiction of how the Amesbury Archer might have looked. Right: Gold earring from the second burial
© 2002 Wessex Archaeology

Aubrey Manning visits the site with archaeologist Andrew Fitzpatrick and examines the bones and artefacts from the Amesbury Archer's grave. At the time he was buried, 4,300 years ago, Salisbury Plain was a centre of activity and the ring of bluestones from the Precelly Hills in Wales was being erected at Stonehenge, just four kilometres from the grave. Clearly the Amesbury Archer was a man of high status. But who was he and what was his connection with Stonehenge? He has been called the King of Stonehenge with another burial - less rich but with a similar pair of earrings - found just five metres away, being named as the Prince. But were they related? And do the stone wrist guards suggest a link with South Wales? Plenty of mysteries still to unearth.

Detail of the burial site © 2002 Wessex Archaeology
Detail of the burial site © 2002 Wessex Archaeology

Pictures used with kind permission of Wessex Archaeology

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