The 4,300 Years Old Amesbury Archer ‘King of Stonehenge’

Archaeologists discovered the Amesbury Archer in a grave in May 2002 during a housing development excavation near Stonehenge.

Consequently, they found an early Bronze Age man, specifically from the Bell Beaker culture, who lived around 2300 BC. He is currently in the Salisbury Museum, the whole museum is full of amazing history, and I stood there for what seemed like hours just starting at him.

This man, middle-aged at death, earned his nickname “the Archer” due to numerous buried arrowheads with him. Remarkably, his grave held more artifacts than any other British Bronze Age burial.

Moreover, it included the earliest gold objects found in England. The wealth and high status displayed in this burial provided new insights into the era.



The ‘King of Stonehenge' - the grave of the Amesbury Archer is one of the most important discoveries in Europe.
The ‘King of Stonehenge’ – the grave of the Amesbury Archer is one of the most important discoveries in Europe.

Prior to this discovery, researchers assumed Bronze Age society was not particularly hierarchical. Furthermore, radiocarbon dating of the grave and Stonehenge suggests the sarsens and trilithons may have been raised before his birth. Lastly, a new bluestone circle might have been erected around his birth time.

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The Archer’s anatomy reveals several notable features, such as os acromiale, meaning his acromion didn’t fuse typically. Additionally, he had spina bifida occulta and lacked a left patella. Oxygen isotope analysis of his tooth enamel suggests Alpine central European origins.

Moreover, an eroded hole in his jaw indicates a past abscess, while his absent left kneecap points to a lingering, painful bone infection from an injury. Currently, his skeleton is displayed at the Salisbury Museum in Salisbury.

Archaeologists found a second male skeleton, possibly a relative of the Archer, interred nearby. Notably, both shared a rare genetic anomaly, calcaneonavicular coalition, involving the fusion of specific foot bones.

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Consequently, this younger individual, often referred to as the Archer’s Companion, seems to have grown up in a more local climate. Estimates put the Archer at around forty at his death, while his companion was in his early twenties. Additionally, the graves are located near the Boscombe Bowmen, excavated a year later.

Amesbury Archer King of Stonehenge

The British press quickly named the Archer the King of Stonehenge due to his burial’s proximity to the monument. Some suggested he might have participated in its construction. Nevertheless, archaeologists have rejected such speculations.

While his burial is high-profile from the stones’ erection period, the grave’s lavish nature highlights his significance to his mourners.

The housing estate which was built on the surrounding area of his grave is named Archer's Gate, after him.
The housing estate which was built on the surrounding area of his grave is named Archer’s Gate, after him.

Tim Darvill possibly views the skeleton as a pilgrim, seeking Stonehenge’s bluestones’ ‘healing properties.’ Importantly, his grave links to Continental Europe and early copper smelting technology.

The Archer is considered one of Britain’s earliest gold metalworkers, exemplifying direct Bell Beaker culture and pottery transmission from continental Europe. Analyzing the Archer’s skeleton’s DNA initially presented challenges, excluding it from a 2018 study of 226 Bell Beaker burials.

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Meanwhile, DNA from the nearby ‘Companion’ contributed to the study. Eventually, researchers successfully sampled and analyzed the Archer’s DNA. Both the Archer and the Companion, through Y-chromosome analysis, revealed Steppe ancestry. Specifically, the Archer belongs to haplogroup R-L151 and the Companion to haplogroup R-L21.

Archer’s Teeth

Neither man was closely related, though a distant relationship, like great-grandfather/great-grandson, is possible. Additionally, the Archer exhibited more Early European Farmer ancestry (approximately 45%) than the Companion (around 33%).

Previous strontium and oxygen isotope analysis of the Archer’s teeth showed his childhood in Central Europe, likely the Western Alps. Conversely, while the Companion was likely born in Britain, his childhood also partially unfolded in Europe, potentially in the Western Alps region.

Fifteen barbed and tanged arrowheads, along with a probable triangular one, were identified in the Amesbury Archer’s burial.

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Particularly, fourteen were scattered from the pelvis to the feet towards the grave’s eastern end. Nine arrowheads clustered at the knees’ front, while an additional six lay over the pelvis and lower legs.

These six arrowheads, positioned at a higher level, were likely placed over the body during the burial’s final stages. Although it’s possible arrowheads were shaft-attached, post-depositional changes prevent conclusive confirmation.

Large Amount of Arrow Heads

The Amesbury Archer’s grave contains one of Britain’s largest recorded quantities of barbed and tanged arrowheads. Despite these arrowheads commonly featuring in male Beaker period burials, they’re usually solitary finds or in pairs.

Therefore, the abundance of arrowheads with the Amesbury Archer offers an invaluable basis for comparative study. Typically, an arrowhead from the burial measures approximately 22–30 mm in length, 18–22 mm in width, and 3–5 mm in thickness.

Bone tests indicated the Archer was a strongly built man, aged between 35 and 45, with a painful jaw abscess. Additionally, a previous accident had severely injured his left knee cap, forcing him to walk with a distinctive, painful limp.

His teeth enamel reveals he spent his childhood in central Europe, likely in the Alpine region, such as Switzerland, Austria, or Germany, but it doesn’t specify the duration of his stay in Britain.

Wessex Archaeology emphasizes his origin from the Alpine region, probably present-day Switzerland, as particularly notable. While the appearance of Beaker pottery in Britain showcases Europe trade and cultural connections, the Archer contributed more than just commerce.

His metalworking skills, especially in gold, arrived during Britain’s initial encounters with metals, granting him notable status, reflected in his opulent burial.