Josh, from Stonehenge School, completes his contribution to our blog…
As part of my work experience at the Salisbury museum, it has been requested that I write a short blog or piece about a chosen artefact within the museum, some information about it, and why I have chosen it. I hope that you will find this interesting, and that maybe, just maybe, you’ll learn something.
The Amesbury archer is the skeleton of what is believed to be a late Neolithic/early Bronze Age man, estimated to have been around 35-45 years old when he died. He was found buried near the town of Amesbury, along with several fascinating and highly revealing archaeological finds, making his discovery of great importance and relevance. I will summarise these below, only looking over a few of the many finds buried with him.
The Amesbury Archer is believed to be part of what was referred to as the “bell beaker culture”, a late Neolithic social grouping of individuals who were all found to be buried with ceramic beakers, hence their name. Usually they were all buried with one, in what we now believe to have been their customary funeral rite or ceremony. However the Amesbury Archer was different. For you see, he was not buried with just one beaker. Nor two. Not even three. He was found buried with an impressive five beakers, a figure that has only been matched a few times.
This large number of pots is usually taken to indicate a particularly high social status and burial, meaning that whoever the Amesbury Archer was, he was a man of power. The other items buried with him only go to further support this theory.
Alongside the skeleton of this long dead man lay three copper daggers, and two hammered gold hair ornaments, and the importance of these finds cannot be overstated. As of the time of writing, these are the oldest man-made copper or gold items to be found in Britain, and indicate that the art of metal working was slowly coming to the island.
It was an art that many believe the Amesbury Archer had brought with him. Through in-depth isotope analysis of the Archers teeth, we are able to determine that he was not a native to this land, instead originating somewhere in the Alpine region of what is now known as southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland.
suggests that over 4000 years ago, people were beginning to travel long
distances and were spreading the finer arts of forging and metalworking to
Britain, which had for so long been isolated from continental Europe. Indeed,
it is believed from the presence of a black cushion stone and several flint
tools lying amidst his grave that he was a metalworker himself, a position that
would have undoubtedly given him much power and influence in the late Neolithic
society. If this is true, he was one of the men who started the gradual
ushering of the British Isles into the next era.
Other details can be found from his burial. His skeleton was found missing a knee cap, and the growth of the bones on one of his legs indicates that it had been used far more than the other one, suggesting that he only walked using the one leg for most his life, giving him a limp. Yet evidently he flourished, living to a great age relative to those around him.
Why did he travel all these many miles? On what sort of quest was he on? Was he seeking something, or was he fleeing troubles and dangers in his own land? These are unanswerable questions, but to me, really strike home, and are why I find this one exhibit so fascinating.
The Amesbury Archer suggests so much about the changing and evolving civilisation developing in Britain and Europe at the time, and yet gives us so little solid evidence or story that we can work from. We are left with a few fragmentary pieces, frantically trying to use them to make the full picture.
me, this is what history is. A constant struggle to find the stories and tales
of ages past, and to understand the motivations and reasonings behind the
people who shaped the events that have led us up to this moment. The Amesbury
Archer is one of these figures, who can tell us so much about the past, but
still leaving us longing to fill in the gaps.
have not written everything I could have about this subject, and the artefact
and if you want to learn more about this fascinating character, he’s on display
in the Wessex gallery today. And please, when you see him, try to fill in the
gaps for me. Make a new tale. The best thing about history is that there’s
always a new story, and always a new interpretation. I hope you find one that
Amesbury archer exhibit, in the Wessex Gallery, Salisbury museum
Amesbury Archer and the Boscombe Bowman exhibit: Early Bell Beaker burials, A.P
Flint Arrowheads of the British Isles, H Stephen Green
” The best thing about history is that there’s always a new story, and always a new interpretation.” ‘Couldn’t agree more Josh. Thank you.
The full story of Wessex Archaeology’s discovery, excavation, etc of the Amesbury Archer can be read here.
Josh was with us in the summer and shares his experiences with us…
Hello all, my name is Joshua, and I have been doing a week’s work experience here at the Salisbury museum. I come from the Stonehenge school in Amesbury, and I am currently studying for my GCSEs, including one in History, oddly enough. I’ve had a very interesting week, and one that I will almost definitely recommend to one or two friends of mine.
I signed up for a week’s work experience here for a few reasons. Firstly, I enjoy history. It’s the big reason behind the museum, and I am fascinated by the many stories and tales hidden behind the veil of time, and I’ve had a real privilege in order to peak behind the curtain this past week.
Also, I’d never been to the Salisbury museum, and, even better, coming on work experience is free! I’ve spent a long week in the museum browsing through the exhibits (and many of the far more interesting items kept outside of the public eye), and I feel as if I have a far greater depth of knowledge regarding the artefacts on display than if I had just flown by on a quick two hour tour.
Which brings me to one of the main reasons I’ve enjoyed my time here. Everyone just has so much knowledge and passion for the items they curate and catalogue, and there has always been something new to hear or to learn. Even during the long hours cataloguing (man, we did a lot of cataloguing!) a volunteer always would have a fascinating story to tell us about one of the items, and I’d learn something new.
For example, I’ll admit that I have never been much of an artist, or a great art admirer. But actually, I’ve spent a very enjoyable three hours today looking through the archives of Rex Whistler, and surprisingly, it has actually been one of the highlights of this week.
Furthermore, I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to conduct some research on my own. As part of our work experience, we’ve had to write two blogs, one of which you’ll be reading now, another of which will be on an artefact of our choice, in my case one on the famous Amesbury Archer.
For this blog, we have been allowed to conduct our own research, visiting the exhibits and the library, which small size hides a depth and scale that I may never get over. I’ve really enjoyed being able to do my own thing, and searching the dusty tomes and volumes within to find that one sentence which may improve my blog.
I’ve enjoyed viewing the behind the scenes of the museum, and learning about the vast amounts of work that has been put into this museum’s collection. It’s really made me appreciate the efforts of the above mentioned volunteers who have put so much time, passion and care into helping the museum grow and operate.
So, I’d like to say a thank you to all those who have helped improve our work experience this week, and I hope that my inaccurate and sweeping statements in my next blog don’t make you despair for the future. I’ve really enjoyed working here, and I wish you all the best for the future. It’s been a pleasure.
Thank you Josh. We will hear about your research on the Amesbury Archer next week.
In his recent talk to Volunteers about prospects for the museum after our successful NHLF bid, the Director began by referencing his arrival in 2007. It was a time when there was a need, and desire, for change. And it was important to rejuvenate the heart of the museum – the King’s House.
A Masterplan was prepared. A priority was to update the prehistory displays as Stonehenge would have its own new visitors’ gallery after 2013. In July 2014 the Wessex Gallery opened and Part One was complete.
The Salisbury Galleries, meanwhile, date to the 1980s, and also need re-designing.
Conserving the Grade Two listed buildings is vital and potentially expensive. Tiles fall off, leaks and damp are occasionally serious, as a ceiling collapse a few months ago reminded everyone.
Meanwhile, the museum continues to take in new material, including large items such as the Scout car.
A big plus is the recently acquired Hurricane Store’ at Old Sarum but there are still problems, generally, with storage.
The museum needs 45 000 visitors a year to be stable financially. At the moment the annual figure is 30 000. Commercial opportunities are being developed, eg the use of the King’s Room (which also needs updating), but, for example, a lift is needed to make it more accessible.
With NHLF funding, and other monies, the Salisbury Gallery will be re-developed during 2020 – 2022. It may involve revamping rooms and buildings, and Wiltshire Council and Heritage England are supportive of changes to the ground floor but there is much to consider.
Adrian stressed that we have a ‘Round One’ pass only from NHLF at the moment and certain criteria must be met before we gain ‘Round Two’ funding.
And, of course, we need to raise match funding to go with the Lottery grant. Fundraisers have been appointed and staff to fill new posts will follow. Conservation Architects will be needed, designers for interiors, business planners, Quantity Surveyors, etc, etc. In addition a Membership drive is planned.
Onward and upward..but a lot of hard work yet to do!
Milly was with us during the summer and has completed some interesting research around our collection of Beaker peoples’ artefacts.
Beakers are a distinctive form of pot which were popular in Europe and consequently spread to Britain around 4 500 years ago (Malone 2001). Although their specific origin and development is contested (Clarke 1970), it is thought that the pots were adopted in Britain in the later Neolithic (Wessex Gallery). Other trends which coincided with beaker pottery and beaker burials include individualistic burials focused on demonstrating prestige, the development of metal working skills and internationalism resulting in long distance trade (Malone 2001). It was previously thought that the purpose of beakers was to hold beer, however, the general consensus nowadays is that they were for food and non-alcoholic drinks. Malone (2001) even goes as far as to argue that they were more than just a pot, and instead were intimately linked with the social, economic and technological changes of the time.
Various beakers from
Pitt Rivers’ collection. If you look closely you can see the horizontal
decorations which are different on each beaker.
Source: Wessex Gallery.
Beakers came in various styles and decorations which developed and changed over time. Some of the decorations were achieved with cord, finger tips or twigs (Wessex Gallery). The first beakers in Britain are thought to be associated with the Netherlands because they were made from a red clay and had an s-shaped silhouette with a low belly (Malone 2001). Cord and comb was used to decorate these beakers in horizontal patterns (Malone 2001). Later on, beakers became even more decorative and had shorter, wider necks (Malone 2001). Beakers continued to change and from about 2000 to 1700BC they had bulbous, short bodies and practically vertical necks (Malone 2001). This changing of shape and decoration has allowed archaeologists to date beakers with more accuracy.
There were 3 main ways in which beaker burials could differ according to Clarke (1970); orientation, position and type. Below is a diagram from Clarke’s (1970) book which demonstrates the four common positions of the beaker in relation to the body. Although beakers could be prestige ware, general duty ware or heavy duty ware, the form of beaker found in burials tends to be prestige ware (Clarke 1970). Stone (1958) argues that people were buried with beakers so they could use them in the afterlife and so they could provide a sense of identity. Male and female beaker burials also tended to differ (Malone 2001). A typical male beaker burial was most likely a single grave, with the possibility of family being buried nearby, and included shale and jet beads, a copper or bronze awl and weapons like a dagger (Malone 2001). Contrastingly, female beaker burials did not usually contain weapons but had more beads and tools. According to Malone (2001), the contents of one’s grave suggests one’s status and position within the local hierarchy.
A diagram showing the
four main burial positions of a beaker where ‘X’ represents the beaker.
Source: Clarke (1970).
are multiple examples of beaker pottery used in burials in the Wessex Gallery,
the most famous being the Amesbury Archer. Unearthed near Stonehenge, he was a
seminal discovery as it is thought he was one of the earliest beaker burials in
Britain. Interestingly, although most beaker burials only contain one beaker,
the Amesbury Archer had five and the Boscombe Bowmen’s grave which contained
five adult males, one teenager and two children had the remains of eight
beakers (Wessex Gallery). The latter was the largest number of beakers
excavated from a single grave and is an impressive addition to the Wessex
A beaker which was found
in between the knees and feet of a skeleton in Winterslow, alongside a wrist
guard and arrowhead.
D.L. (1970) Beaker Pottery of Great
Britain and Ireland Volume 1 (Cambridge University Press).
D.L. (1970) Beaker Pottery of Great Britain
and Ireland Volume 2 (Cambridge University Press).
C. (2001) Neolithic Britain and Ireland
J.F.S (1958) Wessex Before the Celts
(Thames and Hudson).
Wessex Gallery, Salisbury Museum.
From Encyclopedia Britannica :The Beaker People received their name from their distinctive bell-shaped beakers, decorated in horizontal zones by finely toothed stamps. (Their culture is often called the Bell-Beaker culture.) The graves of the Beaker folk were usually modest single units, though in much of western Europe they often took the form of megalithic tombs. A warlike stock, they were primarily bowmen but were also armed with a flat, tanged dagger or spearhead of copper, and a curved, rectangular wrist guard. Their extensive search for copper (and gold), in fact, greatly accelerated the spread of bronze metallurgy in Europe. Probably originally from Spain, the Beaker folk soon spread into central and western Europe in their search for metals. In central Europe they came into contact with the Battle-Axe (or Single-Grave) culture, which was also characterized by beaker-shaped pottery (though different in detail) and by the use of horses and a shaft-hole battle-ax. The two cultures gradually intermixed and later spread from central Europe to eastern England.
Ed: In fact it is now thought that the Beaker people eventually almost completely replaced the DNA of earlier peoples in England.
This fascinating item has appeared in the case in the foyer of the museum. One look tells you how skilled the women were who made lace.
The local lace making industry was in decline by the end of the nineteenth century, resurrected by a Mrs Robinson who ensured that equipment and knowledge was preserved.
Here we see a lace pillow, hand whittled bobbins and patterns known as ‘prickings’, held in place by pins.
There is a story here, which links lace making with a favourite hymn, ‘Amazing Grace’…
William Cowper was son of an eighteenth century clergyman, troubled by bouts of severe depression. In those days there weren’t the medicines, or understanding, that we have now, and eventually he found himself in a lunatic asylum. A cousin, who was a member of the burgeoning Evangelical movement of the day, stuck by William, and William was converted. He came into contact with another Evangelist, John Newton of Olney, in Buckinghamshire, and between them they produced a series of hymns, called the Olney Hymns, of which one was ‘Amazing Grace’. Olney was a famous lace making town of around 2 000 in those days, of which 1 200 were said to be in the lace making industry. Cowper wrote this poem about the women of the town:
“Yon cottager, who weaves at her own door, Pillow and bobbins all her little store; Content though mean, and cheerful if not gay, Shuffling her threads about the live-long day, Just earns a scanty pittance, and at night Lies down secure, her heart and pocket light; She, for her humble sphere by nature fit, Has little understanding, and no wit, Receives no praise; but though her lot be such (Toilsome and indigent), she renders much; Just knows, and knows no more, her Bible true“
Cowper described the women as “upon the point of starving, and that the most unremitting industry is but barely sufficient to keep them from it.“
Nicole was with us for a number of weeks in the summer….
“My name is Nicole and I’m a History student studying at Queen Mary University of London. I wanted to volunteer at the museum over the summer to gain more general museum experience and focus my future work experience and career. I have wanted to work in Archives or Museum Education and my placement at the museum has really helped consolidate this decision. Whilst at the museum, I worked in three areas: the Portable Antiquities Scheme, the library Ephemera collection and the Discovery Days family education events as well as at this year’s Festival of Archaeology. These are three stand out moments from my summer at the museum…
I spent my Tuesday afternoons at the museum cataloguing two boxes of family history from the library’s ephemera collection. The boxes, EPH 11 and EPH 11A, were filled with letters, education certificates, in memoriam cards, memoirs and photographs and taking time to really look at each object as I catalogued them, first by hand and then onto MODES, was a really great way to spend sun-filled afternoons in the library.
One piece that really struck me was this Valentines letter, cut into the shape of a heart with fold out pages. Each fragile page was filled with moving words, and really stuck out amongst the legal documents, certificates and photographs in the rest of the box.
I spent a lot of time working with the Portable Antiquities Scheme during my placement and catalogued 51 small finds in total including a lot of Roman coins, some jettons, brooches, buckles, axe heads and rings. I also became very well acquainted with the magic wand tool on Photoshop and found editing photos quite enjoyable, which was music to the ears of the PAS team.
One of my most memorable moments was an impromptu trip to the Barrow Clump site, run by volunteers as part of Operation Nightingale, which I’d heard a talk about at the Festival of Archaeology. After a tour round the site, including some WW2 arborglyphs, we went to the trench the volunteers were working on – just as they were uncovering a crouch burial. Absolutely great timing and a very exciting first visit to an archaeological dig.
I also engaged with the events and education the museum has to offer during my placement, both at the annual Festival of Archaeology and with the ‘Discovery Days’ which were artist-run family education workshops every Tuesday. Activities ranged from creating a ‘Museum of Me’ to Archaeology-themed stop motion animation, monolith climbing and a corn dolly workshop. Seeing children focus so intently on twisting damp ears of corn into intricate weaves and plaits, muddling our way through instructions and finishing it off with a little ribbon was fantastic – one family in particular really got to grips with it and made increasingly more intricate creations.
This sharing of ancient crafts was something that also stuck me at the Festival of Archaeology, and for me one the highlights. Re-enactment groups sharing knowledge, crafts and tangible glimpses into the past with such engaged young people was great to see and I myself was quite entranced by the flint knappers and ancient dying process.
My summer at the museum has given me an insight into the impact of local museums on the community both in terms of history through my work with ephemera, with detectorists and archaeologists as part of PAS, and through a summer events program which I saw engaged so many young people and families.
Thank you Nicole. ‘Enjoyed working with you on the PAS.
Amongst our Costume Collection are a variety of dress accessories, including handbags…
They all have a story; fashions may have changed, but most early examples are just beautiful to look at. And knowing how they were made is sometimes jaw dropping!
We will explore some of the stories, and who were the famous owners of some of the bags, another time. Meanwhile, enjoy a sample.
All these bags and purses date to the mid 19th century and are therefore nearly two hundred years old. This one was manufactured in such a way as to have a three dimensional pattern on it. This isn’t printed fabric, there are rectangular cells all over the surface.
This gloriously blue bag has an outer ‘shell’ created from thread made from grasses!
This elegant bag is velvet and the foliate decoration is made of tiny slivers of horn.
And finally for today, an ingenious purse. It is made up fabric cut and sewn in a single sausage shape, with sliding rings which can form and separate and keep secure, two pouches for coins. It could be held in a simple way, in the hand, wrapped around the wrist, or tucked into a belt. Why doesn’t someone re-invent it for youngsters who don’t know what to do with their handbags on the dance floor…?
Thank you to the Costume ladies, who promise more on this later.
Costume Project Volunteers are invited to come along for a project catch-up and tea, coffee and cake on:
Wednesday 20 November from 2pm til 3.30pm.
Katy England would like to discuss the exciting next steps with the ‘Look Again; Discovering Centuries of Change’ project. There will also be an opportunity to discuss other costume cataloguing issues.
Please can you let Bridget know if you are able to attend.