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Some of the grave goods, including metal arrow heads, from the Amesbury Archer grave
The Amesbury Archer

Artemis has written in our blog before (see July 10) and has recently completed two pieces on her favourite items in the museum. We include one today. The other will appear next week.

The Salisbury Museum is, of course, chock full of all sorts of curious objects that people would find intriguing, no matter where their interests lay. That is the allure of a museum. I’ve only been studying in England for three years, having done my GCSE’s at Godolphin (and now continuing my A-levels there), and in my first year of GCSE Art we came down to look at the artefacts – specifically ceramics. No offence to anyone, but I grew to dislike looking at old ceramics after that experience where we were expressly forbidden to look at anything but pots! So my first impression of the museum was unfortunately not that great. Now that I have had a full week to explore the museum more in depth and have been able to adapt to my own tastes better, there were two objects that I found particularly interesting that I hadn’t had the chance to properly study before.

The first is the famous Amesbury Archer. I had glanced at him (longingly) two years ago, but on Monday I got to really inspect the display. (The staff and volunteers often joked that he had received more media coverage than the whole museum combined throughout the years.) His remains were found near Stonehenge, dating back to the late Neolithic period. The reason why he was so interesting was because of the finds in his burial, which suggested that he was a man of extremely high status despite one non-functional leg. His teeth traced his origins to somewhere near the Alps. He was, seemingly, one of the founders of metal-working in Britain, which was what gave him such a wealthy burial, with the oldest gold and copper items yet found within the UK.

My interest lies in archaeology, but the main influence on that is in all types of ancient mythology (also mainly in ceremonial rites like funerals and weddings, but that isn’t really relevant right now). The Greeks believed in a blacksmith god named Hephaestus, or the Roman Vulcan, who was crippled with a smashed leg when Hera threw him off Olympus as a baby for being too ugly. He landed on high mountains – some believed he landed on a volcano, which made him also the god of volcanoes (hence the word derived from his Roman name). After being raised by the older generation of “monstrous” immortals who taught him the trade of metalworking, Hephaestus travelled far and wide, ultimately seeking revenge against his immortal family for his mistreatment. Mortals associated him with gold and bronze.

With that in mind, the first thing that came to me upon seeing the Amesbury Archer was the similarities he had to Hephaestus. Both crippled, metalworking men who came from the mountains, treated with high prestige and immense respect by the locality; the coincidence was all too much. Could it be possible that the Stone Age Archer was a reincarnation of the Ancient Greek God?

The reincarnation theory is highly prominent in Asian religions and mythologies, and it has certainly spread worldwide in providing interesting plotlines (e.g. see the film A Dog’s Journey). Of course the common person would scoff at my association of the Amesbury Archer with an Ancient Greek myth, but it left a lasting impression on me and certainly allowed my imagination to wander far and wide.

Thank you Artemis. Fascinating, and thought provoking.