Amesbury Archer Companion Stonehenge Bronze Age Burial Grave Information Discovery who

The discovery near Stonehenge of the early Bronze Age burial site of the Amesbury Archer and his Companion in 2002 by Wessex Archaeology have helped archaeologists built a better picture of the society in the Stonehenge area of Britain during the Bronze Age.

The Beaker Culture

In doing, so archaeologists have discovered new and important evidence of Beaker Culture society in Britain and Europe that is surprising and intriguing.

Archaeologists had thought that the Beaker people had been invaders to Britain from continental Europe. They are named after the shape of the pottery drinking cups they made which were found in many burial sites of that time.

Today many experts think that the Beaker culture was a spreading of commerce and culture rather than an invasion. The finding of the Archer provides evidence that people, goods, new ideas and skills did move from Europe to Britain.

Finding the Archer and his Companion

Wessex Archaeology had discovered that the burial site contained the remains of two bodies. One of the graves contained the remains of a man with objects buried with him that suggested that he had been a man of great importance, status and power and that he had the knowledge and ability to work with gold and copper.

The other grave contained the remains of a younger man. Although with less artefacts present than the Archer his grave was still considered a rich find.

Was the Archer an Immigrant?

Analysis of the Archer’s tooth enamel showed that he had originated in an area of the central Alps probably in what is known today as Switzerland though it could have been possibly an area of Austria, or Germany. Although the tests showed he had lived in this area as a child they could not determine how long he had lived in Britain.

Constant Pain

Examination of his bones revealed that he had been a strong man and his age when he died was between 35 and 45 years old which for the Early Bronze Age is a good age to reach. It was also shown that for much of his life he had been disabled by an injury he suffered to his left knee.

This resulted in the bone becoming infected and would have caused constant pain forcing him to walk with a limp and carry his weight on his right side. He had also been afflicted by a tooth abscess that had infected his jaw possibly caused his death.

The Archer’s Burial Trove

In a way typical of his time he had been placed on his side in a slightly curled position as of someone asleep. Around him were found objects and artefacts that suggested that he was someone who held status and respect in his lifetime.

He wore on his forearm a black sandstone wrist-guard which were used to protect the arm from the recoil of a bow string, possibly while fighting, or hunting. There was also found a bone pin possibly to fasten a cloak.

By his side was found a copper knife either placed there deliberately or worn at his side in a leather sheaf which had rotted away. Also found were gold hair tresses (ear rings), a Beaker pot, a cache of flints and significantly a black stone called a cushion stone which was known to be a tool used by a metalworker. There was everything needed for him in the afterlife to survive.

The fact that he was found with a cushion stone suggests that it was an object of his trade. This is important and this alone would have given him great status in Britain as gold and copper were new metals. Experts think that as well as possessing objects made of these rare metals he was also able to work them. This would have been a highly sort after skill for the time.

It is possible that the gold hair tresses (ear rings) and some, or all of the copper knives were not owned by him in life but placed at his side when he had died. These were rare and valuable objects for the time and would have been a sign of great respect.

Copper being a soft metal the knives were probably more for show or eating than as weapons.

Though many of the objects are thought to have originated locally analysis of a copper knife indicates the metal originated in Spain and another from western France. The gold is thought to have originated on the continent of Europe.

Many other items were also found and it is thought that over his lower body and legs complete hafted arrows had been placed or scattered as a number of arrowheads were found on his body which is why he was called the Amesbury Archer.

The Archer’s Companion

There was also a second, smaller grave found along side the Archer containing the remains of a man who died when he was 20-25 years old who is also thought to have been of high status. In his mouth were found 2 gold hair tresses similar to those found with the Archer.

Were they Family?

Expert examination of the skeletons of the two men showed that they both shared a rare bone condition. The bones that are not normally articulated at the top of the instep were articulated in both men. This would not have caused them problems and they probably were not aware of it but it is a very rare condition.

Wessex Archaeology say, ‘Bone analysis showed he and the Archer to be related and it is likely they were father and son. Analysis of his teeth shows he grew up in southern England but may have spent his late teens in the Midlands or north-east Scotland.’

Results from radiocarbon dating indicate the grave of the Archer’s companion to be a little later than the Archer’s though it cannot reveal if there was any relationship between them.

Other Significant Burial Finds in the Area

There are many burials around Stonehenge from this and other times and two very significant finds that are contemporary with the Archer and his Companion. These are the burials of the Boscombe Bowmen and the Stonehenge Archer.

The Boscombe Bowmen

In a mass grave the remains of 3 adult men, 1 teenage male and 3 children were found at Boscombe Down 3 miles from Stonehenge were discovered and were dubbed the Boscombe Bowmen. Analysis of tooth enamel indicates that they could have originated in Wales from the area the bluestones were obtained from that were used in Stonehenge.

Many experts believe this was a Welsh family group who had been part of the transportation of the bluestones. They had lived at the time of the Archer and his Companion though their social roles were probably very different.

The Stonehenge Archer

In 1978, the body of a Bronze Age man was excavated in the outer ditch of Stonehenge by Richard Atkinson and John G. Evans. His grave was unusual because most burials in the Stonehenge area are in a barrow, whereas his appeared to have been positioned with considered deliberation in the ditch for burial.

Analysis of the skeleton points to the man being around 30 years of age when he died and suggests he was local to the area. Results from radiocarbon dating indicate that he died around 2300 BC about the same time as the Amesbury Archer and the Boscombe Bowmen. Both of these burial sites are around 3 miles from Stonehenge.

A stone wrist guard such as archers wear to protect their wrists from the recoil of the bow string and several arrowheads were found with him. Several of these were found in the skeleton bones suggesting that he had been killed by being shot with arrows. Some archaeologists suggest it may have been a ritual killing or an execution though it cannot be proved. The Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum now hold his remains.

Woodhenge and Durrinton Walls

The burial site of the Archer and his Companion is around 2 miles south-east of Stonehenge. According to radiocarbon dating the Archer lived between 2,400 and 2,200 BC which is round about the time that the avenue to the River Avon and the huge stone circles were constructed.

Within the same area at this time were the temples of Woodhenge and Durrington Walls. These were both a similar distance away and were both important sites that were in use during this period.


The Archer and his Companion may have lived during a time when construction was still underway at Stonehenge, or had been finished shortly before his arrival.

New evidence found by Professor Mike Parker Pearson from the University of Sheffield and the Stonehenge Riverside Project indicates that burials played a major part in the function of Stonehenge from its beginning.

Estimates put the number of human cremation remains found within Stonehenge to be up to 240. Andrew Chamberlain one of Parker Pearson’s team thinks it may be that the cremation burials were possibly the deaths of members of a ruling family, or dynasty. Parker Pearson says, ‘I don’t think it was the common people getting buried at Stonehenge it was clearly a special place at that time. One has to assume anyone buried there had some good credentials.’

The Significance of The Archer’s Burial Trove

There were almost 100 objects buried with the Archer. A number that is unique for such times and although many of these were typical of the era the fact that so many were found as well as the gold, copper and cushion stone indicated that this was a man of wealth and influence and may have been part of a ruling elite, though not necessarily in Britain.

It is rare to find an early Bronze Age grave with more than a few objects and it is considered lucky to find even one object of bronze, copper or gold. Some of the objects found with the Archer and his Companion are very high calibre.

The gold is the earliest found in Britain and the copper knives originating in western France and Spain evidences some kind of commerce and contact with these places. This and the fact that the Archer is known to have originated in central Europe shows there was movement of people.

Were the Archer and his Companion Rulers?

With the discovery of the Archer’s grave, archaeologists for the first time had evidence of a social hierarchy in Bronze Age society. It could now be shown that individuals and perhaps families had higher status, greater wealth and for the time, extraordinary skill and knowledge that others did not possess.

Whether his skill with metallurgy gave him that status and power or whether it was a station he was born to cannot be determined. It does show that a few people at the time had links that stretched from Stonehenge, across England, across the English Channel to central Europe, with trading links to western France and Spain.

What was the Archer like?

From the grave of the Archer archaeologists have pieced together a picture of what they think he was like. The Archer must certainly have been a strong man to overcome pain and handicap to make his way to Amesbury, near Stonehenge from central Europe. He must also have possessed a high degree of intelligence and skill to work the metals of gold and copper that were so new at the time.

Who was he?

His burial objects show that he was probably wealthy, or held in such high esteem that others placed them as burial gifts out of respect. Either way he was certainly one of a small elite group with widespread links. His grave was found close by Stonehenge in an area with other religious monuments that were in use at the time such as Woodhenge and Durrington Walls while Stonehenge was possibly still being built, or had just been finished.

There has been speculation that he may have been King of Stonehenge, though would his kingdom have stretched across England, over the sea to central Europe? If Andrew Chamberlain is right a king would have been cremated and buried within Stonehenge.

Other ideas are that he was a metallurgist who came to the Stonehenge area to ply his trade and it was this skill that gave him wealth and status.

A project the size of Stonehenge would have required many levels of management and leadership. Some experts think the Archer may have been involved in the ordering or planning of Stonehenge though it is possible that it had been finished and in use and that he came as a pilgrim.

Was he a Pilgrim Seeking Healing?

Some archaeologists point out that he had been disabled and in pain and some think he may have come to the Stonehenge area to find healing or relief as many people today travel to Lourdes in France.

The BBC report on 09 April 2008, Professor Tim Darvill of Bournemouth University and Professor Geoff Wainwright, president of Society Antiquaries saying that the bluestones may have been brought to Stonehenge from Wales because of their healing properties and that Stonehenge may have been a centre for healing as well as having other purposes.

If they are right it may be that the Archer sought relief or healing at Stonehenge. His damaged and infected leg would have caused him constant pain, possibly weeping and smelling

Bronze Age Society

Like Stonehenge the Amesbury Archer is fascinating and enigmatic. His purpose, character and motivation will probably never be known. His life events such as how he learned his skill and who from, and why he crossed Europe and the sea to make his home just outside Stonehenge will remain a mystery very much like Stonehenge itself. Nevertheless, the Archer and his Companion like Stonehenge are parts of the jigsaw that go towards creating a picture of Bronze Age society.