As the summer solstice dawned over Stonehenge, archaeologists revealed that some of the men who built Stonehenge had been found.
Their grave, which dates to the beginning of the Bronze Age, about 2,300 BC, was found at Boscombe Down Amesbury near to Stonehenge.
Many of the stones at Stonehenge were brought from Wales at about this time and chemical tests on the teeth of the men have shown that they were almost certainly born in Wales.
Archaeologists are calling the men ‘the Boscombe Bowmen’ because of the flint arrowheads in the grave. Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, of Wessex Archaeology, said: “In medieval times, people believed that the stones could only have been brought to Stonehenge by Merlin the Wizard. For the first time we have found the mortal remains of one of the families who were almost certainly involved in this monumental task.”
The grave is unusual as it contains the remains of not one, but seven people. There were three children, a teenager and three men. The skulls of the men and the teenager are so similar that they must be related.
The Bowmen’s teeth provided the clue to where they came from. As the enamel forms on children’s teeth, it locks in a chemical fingerprint of where they grew up. Tests by scientists of the British Geological Survey on the strontium isotopes in the Bowmen’s teeth show that they grew up in a place where the rocks are very radiogenic.
This was either in the Lake District or Wales. The men’s teeth also all have the same pattern, showing that they migrated between the ages of 3 and 13. Dr Jane Evans of the British Geological Survey said: “This provides a remarkable picture of prehistoric migration.”
The grave was found on 16th April 2003 during road improvement works being carried out by QinetiQ, the science and technology company that operates the Boscombe Down airfield. Tests on the finds have just been completed by Wessex Archaeology. The QinetiQ employee and archaeologist Colin Kirby, who made the discovery said: “On the second day of the excavations, I noticed human remains in the side of a water pipe trench.
On investigating the spoil from the trench, fragments of beaker pottery and an arrowhead emerged. This was very exciting as it showed that the burial was probably Bronze Age and may be linked to the Amesbury Archer. I immediately informed Wessex Archaeology.”
Seven or eight pots were buried with the dead to hold food and drink for the journey to the next life. The pots are very similar to those found nearby with the Amesbury Archer, a man who was given the richest burial of the age in Europe. He is the earliest metalworker known from Britain, and his grave contained the earliest gold objects in Britain. Tests on his teeth showed that he came from central Europe.
The Archer and the Bowmen lived around the time of major building works at Stonehenge. The stones brought from the Preseli Hills 250 km away in south-west Wales are called the bluestones because of their colour. The huge sarsen stones were brought from the Marlborough Downs 30 km to the north.
Dr Fitzpatrick added: “The Boscombe Bowmen, a band of brothers, must almost certainly be linked with the bringing of the bluestones to Stonehenge. With the discovery that the Amesbury Archer came from central Europe, these finds are casting the first light on an extraordinary picture at the dawn of the metal age”.
Through the mists of time, we can start to see the very people who brought the building blocks of the greatest temple of its age. We can also glimpse the important people who were associated with that temple to the gods of the sun and the moon. It is an epic story.’