We look forward to more in this series of fascinating tours behind the scenes.
Meanwhile, please remember there are other You Tube presentations about the museum collections. Just use your search engine (eg Google) and type in Salisbury Museum You Tube. Click here for another example.
I became intrigued by the stone slips, found with numerous skeletons, which are identified as ‘bracers’ used by archers to protect the inside of their wrists from the lash of the bowstring. My wife and I have both been told separately by archers that the bracers will not work because the string will catch behind the near end of the stone. Intrigued and persuaded by their comments, I investigated.
We have seen three designs: one with two holes, three examples (Figa 1,2,3) one hole at each end and one with six holes, three at each end Fig 4, both in Salisbury Museum, and one with four holes, two at each end, in Devizes Museum. Internet research revealed similar ‘bracers’ and some with even more holes, some of which were filled with rivets. The only one we have seen that might be in situ is with the “Amesbury Archer”, and that one might be on the outside of his arm and is associated with a large pin. Once again, internet research revealed that others have been found on the outside of the forearm, which is not the place for a wrist guard. From the outside of the display cases, we cannot see any sign of wear (witness mark) around the holes that might have resulted from movement of a cord or thong.
One must be careful not to read too much into the position of artefacts in graves. They can be moved and/or they might have been placed in the grave without reference to their function in life. Indeed a second bracer is near the “Amesbury Archer’s” feet. The “Stonehenge Archer” might have been buried with his ‘bracer’ in place but his grave had been badly damaged by animals and the photo does not show where the bracer was found.
For a bracer to be effective it must deflect the bowstring without snagging it, as this would disturb the arrow’s release and deflect the arrow. It must be easy to fit single-handedly, be comfortable and non-encumbering.
I have made simulations in wood of both the two and four-holed versions. It is easy to devise suitable means of attachment using a simple loop of string but I needed a helper to put it on. The two hole version stands up and snags the bowstring most of the time. The four-holed version fitted more snugly to my wrist but it still snagged the bowstring far too often. Both types protected my wrist effectively, most of the time but not often enough. I received string lash to my wrist when the bracer snagged the bowstring and to my thumb and the fletching cut my top knuckle. If this were my bracer, I would make a better one. In particular, I would want some kind of glove or mitten to protect my thumb and knuckle; which seems to be an impractical modification to the bracer as normally shown, Fig 5 The example with the Stonehenge archer is so small it would provide little or no protection. In short, used as shown in Fig 5 would be inconvenient, useless and an encumbrance.
Protection might be provided in numerous ways, e.g. by binding the arm with a leather sheet or sleeve. In this case, the stone slip might have been used as a fastener, rather like a cleat, and/or a spreader/stiffener to stop the leather from creasing. This could explain finding them on the outside of the arm. It might also explain the absence of wear in the holes, since it would be rather static. The Amesbury Archer’s pin is unexplained. Clearly, the thumb and knuckle guards could be incorporated with the sleeve; this construction would also have helped to keep the sleeve taut.
I have no explanation for the six-holed version, there seems to be no advantage in having the extra holes. However, some multi-hole ‘bracers’ have rivets closing the holes so, maybe, the extra holes were ornamental or perhaps it was a two hole version later modified. Possibly, some ‘bracers’ were purely ornamental; there are examples of such developments, e.g. officers’ epaulets which were once protection from downwards sword cuts and the small silver shield that was worn by army officers on a silver chain around the neck is a vestigial breastplate.
Clearly, all of this is speculation based on incomplete evidence and looking from outside the display cabinets. Of the various options proposed above, the hand guard plus sleeve with a buckle/tensioner/stiffener seems to give the best design for the equipment and is within the capabilities of Neolithic people. Which raises the question “Why use stone, why not wood?” I suggest that making a flat wood version rather than using flat slate or similar stone would have been more difficult and a round stick would have got in the way. Of course, all of this is speculation and could well be wrong! All we can only ever say is that this or that explanation is consistent with known facts; of course, if it is inconsistent, it is wrong.
For a more information see:
Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 74, 2008, pp. 109-140
‘Bracers or Bracelets? About the Functionality and Meaning of Bell Beaker Wrist-guards’ by HARRY FOKKENS, YVONNE ACHTERKAMP, and MAIKEL KUIJPERS1
The Bell Beaker bracers, or wrist-guards, are traditionally thought to have functioned as archery equipment, protecting the arm against the sting of the bowstring. Their position on the body is therefore thought to have been on the inside of the lower arm. Through analysis of the position in which wrist-guards are found, we have come to the conclusion that they were, however, more often than not fastened to the outside of the arm, which leads us to consider a range of new possible uses and meanings for the bracers. With combined information from archaeological and ethnographic surveys we have come to think of the stone wrist-guard as an artefact that was associated with a martial, ideologically-laden activity in the Bell Beaker culture.
It may be seen online.
My major comments on this work are given below, they state:
“The surprising conclusion of our survey (Of the positions of “bracers” in Neolithic graves.) is that, while the majority of the bracers were indeed positioned on the lower arm, generally the left arm, they had been worn on the outside. —- only eight out of 30 examples were located on the inside of the arm, with 17 definitely on the outside. Even if we leave — the position that is hardest to interpret – out of the equation, still c. 60% are positioned on the outside of the arm. That was, in fact, wholly unexpected and is difficult to explain as evidence for a functional position. It is also clear that this position on the outside of the wrist is not exclusive, so both a functional and a non-functional or ornamental position are possible, although the majority appear to be ornamental.”
I suggest that it is wrong to suppose that the functional position must be on the inside of the arm. It seems to me that that they are the fastener for the wrist guard and therefore the outside of the wrist is their functional position. So why were some found on the inside? For that, I have no good answer, perhaps movement of the bracer occurred after death. For example, the arm may have withered allowing the bracer to slip round during the burial ritual.
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!
Just under two weeks to go… Please be with us for the weekend of 13 14 July. We need Volunteers to help on the Saturday and the Sunday*, to join in (what could be better than a cream tea in the garden and a couple of good talks), bring your children, grandchildren and friends and neighbours (something for everyone).
see Bridget’s recent email re times when we need help.
Artist Claire Thomas took a group through the secrets of portraiture at a workshop session in the museum on Sunday. Three Volunteers acted as models and a keen, ‘mixed ability’ group produced some interesting, and genuinely artistic, results. One of the group was trying portraits for the first time, others were clearly more experienced, but a good time was had by all present.
Major new fundraising initiative from Friends of Erlestoke Prison and The Salisbury Museum
cARTes postales – art on postcards – is
an exciting initiative by The Friends of Erlestoke Prison
Salisbury Museum, working in partnership. The aim is to
sell over 300 postcard-sized works of original art for only £40 each, in the
style of a lucky dip. This will help raise funds to support rehabilitation
projects at HMP Erlestoke, including an all-weather sports pitch, but also much
needed money to support the museum and all its future plans.
This is the amazing opportunity to own
a piece of art by leading contemporary artists including Antony Gormley,
Richard Deacon, Paul Kidby and Sophie Ryder; talented and emerging local
artists and some of the best artists at HMP Erlestoke.
Postcard vouchers will be available
online from 19 June from the Salisbury Museum website.
Postcards will be exhibited at The Salisbury Museum in October and members of
the public can buy vouchers online with immediate effect. The allocation of postcards will be randomly
generated and postcards dispatched to their lucky recipients by the end of
The second part of the fundraising will
take place at a drinks reception and auction on the evening of 25 October at
The Salisbury Museum. The auction will include works of art donated by
well-known artists, who have kindly donated further works in addition to their
This fundraising initiative has mental
well-being at its heart. For the prisoners at HMP Erlestoke, there are
currently no facilities for outdoor team sports. Exercise in the fresh air will
improve the mental well-being and fitness of prisoners as part of their
rehabilitation. It will also help to prevent reoffending. The Friends of
Erlestoke Prison are aiming to raise £500,000 to build and install the
all-weather sports pitch.
Salisbury Museum is an independent charity, which uses its outstanding
collections of art, archaeology, costume and social history to encourage
learning, inspiration and enjoyment for all. The money raised will support the
museum on its journey towards securing a grant from the National Lottery
Heritage Fund. This project will complete the much needed transformation of the
Salisbury history galleries, restore the museum’s medieval home and launch a
programme of learning and community activities to help build and grow audiences.
You may have noticed that the museum shop is collecting books for re-sale. Previously they have been available through the cafe (and are temporarily back there to make room for Christmas decorations) but from now will have a higher profile in the shop itself.
More quality books are needed, proceeds to our fundraising efforts. Currently we have books on Art, we have biographies, books on politics and lots of novels, but welcome anything which might interest our visitors.