Stonehenge could be the work of immigrants

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

LONDON -- Stonehenge, the mysterious ring of ancient monoliths from the dawn of Britain's proud civilization, could be the work of a central European immigrant, archaeologists said Monday.

An early Bronze Age archer, whose grave was discovered near the stone circle last year, may have helped build the monument. And tests on the chemical components of his tooth enamel showed he grew up in the region that is now Switzerland.

The archer "would have been a very important person in the Stonehenge area," said Andrew Fitzpatrick, Wessex Archaeology's project manager in charge of Stonehenge. "It is fascinating to think that someone from abroad -- probably modern-day Switzerland -- could have played an important part in the construction of Britain's most famous archaeological site."

The 4,000-year-old man was identified as an archer because of the flint arrowheads found by his body, along with other artifacts belonging to the Beaker Culture that flourished in the Alps in the Bronze Age.

The man "very likely" came from an area now in Switzerland, although it might also be in southern Germany or western Austria, Wessex Archaeology spokesman Tony Trueman said.

The archer, dubbed "The King of Stonehenge" by the British press, lived around 2300 B.C., about the time the great stone circle was formed in Amesbury, 75 miles southwest of London.

The some 100 artifacts found in his exceptionally rich grave, discovered about three miles from Stonehenge, indicate he was "obviously a very prominent man" and likely involved in constructing the monument, Trueman said.

Cause of death unknown

The archer was between 35 and 45 years old when he died. He was strongly built but suffered an accident a few years before his death that severed his left knee cap. Trueman said the cause of death was not known, but it could have been a bone infection caused by his leg injury.

Archaeologists also found the grave of a younger man, aged 20 to 25, nearby. He and the archer shared an unusual bone structure in their feet, indicating they were at least related and possibly father and son.

Tests on the younger man's tooth enamel showed he grew up in Britain, leading the archaeologists to speculate the archer lived in Britain for a substantial time and had a family.

Although the indigenous British originally came from mainland Europe, they settled thousands of years before the arrival of the archer, who clearly belonged to a different culture, marked by a new style of pottery, the use of barbed flat arrow heads, copper knives and small gold ornaments.

His grave contained teeth and bones as well as two gold hair tresses, three copper knives, flint arrowheads, wrist guards and pottery. The copper knives came from Spain and France. The gold dated to as early as 2470 B.C., the earliest dated gold objects found in Britain.

Exactly how and why Stonehenge was built remains a mystery. Some experts believe it is aligned with the sun because its builders came from a sun-worshipping culture, while others believe the site was part of a huge astronomical calendar.

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On the Net: www.wessexarch.co.uk/projects/amesbury/

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