Amesbury Archer

Mysterious 'archer' who wasn't a hunter!

From: The Salisbury Museum

The grave of the Amesbury Archer is one of the most important discoveries in Europe. Found near Stonehenge, the burial is over 4,000 years old. But despite the name, the ‘archer’ was probably one of the earliest metalworkers in England.

Analysing the archer

Analysis of his teeth and bones show that the archer was 35–45 years old, and that he grew up outside Britain, probably near the Alps. His left kneecap was missing which meant he would have had a bad limp, so despite his name, he couldn’t have been a hunter. Also, there’s no evidence that he had any of the strong muscles needed for firing a bow.

A crowded grave!

The Amesbury Archer’s grave contained a large number of objects, including five beaker pots, 18 arrowheads, two bracers (archer’s wrist guards), four boars’ tusks, 122 flint tools, three copper knives, a pair of gold hair ornaments, and a cushion stone (an anvil for metalworking). Many of the finds have strong continental links.

Misleading arrowheads

The 18 arrowheads were scattered around his waist and legs. Their presence led to the name ‘Amesbury Archer’, but it was misleading as these arrowheads were never made to be used. They were put in the grave as part of a funeral ceremony. It is thought that there would have been a bow placed with them, but this rotted away.

The design of this kind of arrowhead is brutal as the barbs would stop the arrow from coming out, meaning that the prey would bleed to death. 

A skilled metalworker?

The gold and copper metal objects in the grave are currently the oldest found in Britain. Together with the presence of the cushion stone, they suggest that this man was in fact a metalworker.

Metalworking was a new skill which he may have brought with him to Britain. This knowledge could have made him very powerful, explaining his wealthy burial. In continental Europe, metalworkers’ burials were often very elaborate.

Bones of the Amesbury Archers laid out with the grave goods found with him.
Amesbury Archer with grave goods
Some of the arrowheads found in the grave of the Amesbury Archer.
Arrowheads from Amesbury Archer's grave

Arrowheads inspire contemporary art

When Wessex Museums commissioned Ann-Marie James to create a contemporary art exhibition, she chose one object from each museum as her inspiration. At The Salisbury Museum she chose the arrowheads from the Amesbury Archer's grave.

From them she created the 'Archer' series of paintings. Ann-Marie said:

“The arrowheads interested me because they were made from flint, which involved a great deal of expertise, care and craftsmanship. This feels in some way at odds with the brutality of their purpose.”

Ann-Marie James' Archer series, inspired by arrowheads buried with the Amesbury Archer.

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