Amber necklace

Stunning necklace found in the grave of a woman buried around 4,000 years ago.

From: Wiltshire Museum

The lady with the amber necklace

The necklace was found with the cremated remains of a woman buried at Upton Lovell, near Stonehenge. She was laid to rest in a Bronze Age barrow in about 1,800 BC. Close by was another cremated burial, perhaps a member of her family.

But who was she? No-one knows for sure – but she must have been important for so many precious items to have been included in her burial. 

Beads in vibrant orange and amber

The necklace was made of around 1,000 amber beads, but now just over 300 survive. Imagine the vibrant orange and amber tones catching the light! 

The beads are strung in nine rows, each row held by a rectangular spacer plate. 

Conflicting clues - links to the Mediterranean world

The necklace has been examined in detail, but the clues to its origin remain a mystery. 

Flat ‘spacer-plates’ were drilled to hold the six strings of beads in place. 

Necklaces made using flat spacer-plates have been found in female burials across Europe, ranging from Orkney to Mycenaean Greece. Many are made of amber, which comes from the shores of the Baltic, and it is likely that they were made there.

But there are also examples of similar ‘spacer-plate’ necklaces made from Whitby jet, found on the Yorkshire coast. This could suggest that this style of necklace was also made in Britain, using local materials.

Some also believe that the beads might be from two separate necklaces. 

Curriculum links – tips on using the amber necklace for learning

The story of the beautiful amber necklace is full of mystery, firing the imagination. In the video below,  student Amy Ellis (15) outlines how the necklace could provide perfect inspiration for a Key Stage 3 English creative writing project.  

Amber beads and the spacer stones that held the strands together.
Spacer-plates that held the strands of the necklace together.

Other precious pieces

Also found in the grave were these precious items: 

  • A rectangular gold plaque, with incised decoration in the bands. Made from gold sheet less than 0.1mm thick, it would originally have been fixed to a wooden backing. The plaque would have been sewn onto an item of clothing, perhaps a cloak.
  • Gold drum-shaped beads – these eleven beads may have been part of a necklace or were possibly sewn onto clothing as decoration. They were made from coiled strips of gold with a gold cap at each end.

  • Gold caps –  may have once decorated the ends of wooden staffs or sceptres.

  • A cone-shaped shale pendant, with a gold cover decorated with incised lines. 

  • An incense ‘grape cup’ – these miniature pottery vessels were specially made to be used in funeral ceremonies, usually of women. These may have been fired on the funeral pyre and used to burn scented plants, hallucinogens or oils during a funeral ceremony. Holes in the side allowed the fragrant smoke to escape into the air.  
  • A small bronze knife dagger and awl, similar in size to others found in female burials. Awls are sometimes used for tattooing skin.

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