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Thursday, 16 May, 2002, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
Burial site is richest yet
The excavated skeleton
The grave is thought to be the richest found in Britain
Dozens of unique artifacts including gold earrings and bronze weapons have been found in what may be a prehistoric chieftain's grave.

The quality and quantity of the finds from the Wiltshire site has led experts it could transform the understanding of a period in history which saw the construction of Stonehenge.

The skeleton, named the Amesbury Archer after the village in which he was found, and the arrowheads uncovered with him, have been dated to around 2,300 BC.

The status of the man is emphasized by the fact similar graves have contained up to 10 artifacts, while this one has almost 100.

It is far, far richer than any individual burial from the British Isles at this date

Andrew Fitzpatrick

The grave of the man, aged between 30 and 40, was discovered during routine excavations ahead of a new school development.

Excavators have described finding a "dazzling" array of grave goods including copper knives, pottery beakers, flint tools and stone wristguards.

Study of the artifacts is expected to reveal much about Bronze Age society including the extent of trade both in the British Isles and beyond.

Lavish burials from this period are rare because so few people during the period had major material wealth.

Two gold earrings
Gold earrings were among almost 100 artifacts

Andrew Fitzpatrick, of the Wessex Archaeology team which made the discovery, underlined the find's importance.

He said: "It is far, far richer than any individual burial from the British Isles at this date.

"It includes some of the earliest metal objects in Britain, perhaps even the first copper and gold objects.

"This is clearly an elder in the community, perhaps who wielded military authority and may be a king, a tribal leader or a chieftain of this area."

Initial examination of the bones has shown no obvious cause of death but it has been shown the individual had a problem with his left leg and badly worn teeth.

The BBC's Fergus Walsh
"This discovery has astonished archaeologists"

Click here to go to BBC Wiltshire
See also:

10 May 02 | England
Plough unearths Roman villa
08 May 02 | England
Temple ruin goes hi-tech
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