Beaker (or Bell-Becker) People

During the Late Neolithic, a number of immigrants entered Britain at various places and times and brought with them their distinctive bell-shaped beakers (decorated in horizontal zones by finely toothed stamps) and their knowledge of of metalworking, first in copper and gold, then later in bronze. At this time of change new belief-sytems, religions and customs were introduced, for example burials became more individualistic, rather than the mass graves of earlier times in Long Barrows. Beaker burials were typically in individual round barrows or sometimes in cists covered with cairns; they were the first burials to contain personal belongings with the body, such as the Barnack burial, Bush Barrow, Brymbo Man and Racton Man.

Barnack Burial

Reconstruction of the Barnack Burial (Cambridgeshire) of a wealthy male between 35-45 years old who lived around 2330-3130 BC. He was strongly built and about 5 feet 10 inches (1.78 m) tall. He was excavated in 1974 after nearby gravel quarrying threatened the barrow. The 50m diameter barrow was enlarged at least twice and contained at least 23 bodies.

The items placed in his grave are typical of early Becker burials and include a copper dagger, archers stone wristguard (with eighteen holes; each one was filled with a foil-thin disc of gold), pottery/beckers and dress fittings. There was an unusual pendant made of either bone from a sperm whale or walrus ivory.

The becker pots may have held an alcoholic drink as part of the funeral rite and by his side was a length of  of oak charcoal (the meaning of this is unknown).

The burial reconstructed is in the British Museum

Barnack burial


Bush Barrow Burial

Bush Barrow is a site of the early  Bronze Age burial from around 2000 BC, located at the western end of the Normanton Down Barrows cemetery. It was excavated in 1808 by William Cunnington for Sir Richard Colt Hoare. The barrow contained the remains of a male with rich grave goods, including a large 'lozenge'-shaped sheet of gold, a sheet gold belt plate, three bronze daggers, a bronze axe, a stone macehead and bronze rivets (right). The design of the Bush Barrow Lozenge and the smaller lozenge are based on a hexagon construction. Both the shape and the decorative panels appear to have been created by repeating hexagons within a series of three concentric circles.

The reconstruction burial and grave goods are on display at the Wiltshire Museum

Bush Barrow Burial


Brymbo Man

On 18th August 1958 workmen digging a pipe trench at 79 Cheshire View (Wrexham) in Brymbo found the incomplete remains of a man dating to the early Bronze Age in a burial chamber or cist 30cm below the surface, with grave goods of a flint knife and earthenware beaker. The cist measured 96.25cm x 78.75cm and was covered by a large sandstone capstone - reconstructed in the main gallery at Wrexham Museum.

Analysis showed that he was a stocky man of about 35-40 years old at death, who had teardrop shaped injury to his skull (that had healed) possibly throw being struck by an arrow. Examination of the bones found cut marks made with a sharp instrument, suggesting their burial practices may have involved de-fleshing the bones before interment. He lived around 2200–1900 BC and Brymbo Man would have been part of an early farming community there and would have lived off the land.

Brymbo Man in reconstructed cist

(© Wrexham County Borough Museum - with kind permission)


Racton Man

Racton Man was found on farmland by archaeologist James Kenny during a dig near the village of Racton, Westbourne (West Sussex) between May and July 1989. He was probably a warrior chief, who stood 182cm (6 foot) tall and was over 45 years old when he died between 2,300 BC and 2,150 BC.  He had two wounds to his humerus (upper arm bone) near his shoulder and close to his elbow, which had never healed. This suggested he had died as a result of combat, when which he had his elbow bent above his head to protect it from a blow from a weapon.

Racton Man was buried with one the earliest bronze daggers ever found in the country - a transitional stage between the Copper and Bronze. The 18cm long dagger had a rare design but was not ceremonial as it had been sharpened and had a bone or horn handle studded with 28 rivets or metal pellets. It was the dagger that was first discovered by a metal detectorist, who then found his jawbone in April 1989.

Racton Man is on display at The Novium in Chichester


Dartmoor Princess

On 10th August 2011 a brown bear skin was recovered from a cist burial in a peat bog on Whitehorse Hill - one of the highest points on Dartmoor.

Inside the pelt was the cremated remains of what is thought to be a female around 15-25 years old at death, with a number of rich grave goods and plant material that suggested she may have been of high status - possibly a Princess

Analysis of the pollen and plant material show meadowsweet (right) possibly from a flower wreath and purple moor grass covering all grave goods. Both were gathered in late summer or early autumn, which indicate the season of burial.

Radiocarbon dating indicate the cist and contents were from between 1900-1700 BC.

In the burial chamber were:

  • Woven basket made of two circular lime bast disks measuring 12cm in diameter to form a flat base and lid (below left)
  • Leather belt or sash with a fringe of outward pointing leather triangles made from thin calf skin
  • Hoard of beads (1 x tin, 7 x amber, 110 x clay and 92 x shale)
  • Bracelet with 35 tin studs held in place by a band of woven cow hair (below right)
  • Wooden "yo-yo" shaped earring studs (worn in the ears or set into leather belts or other clothing)
  • Copper awl or pin
  • Flint tool
  • Oak and hazel wood presumed to be from the funeral pyre

The burial chamber first came to the local archaeologists knowledge in the 1999 when a stone fell out of the peat which had been concealing it. As the peat began to erode, a decision was made by Dartmoor National Park Authority to excavate.

The artefacts are on display at Plymouth City Museum and Art Gallery

(© Dartmoor National Park Authority - with kind permission)

Amesbury Archer

Given the title "King of Stonehenge" by the British media, owning to the proximity of the body to the ancient monument, the Amesbury Archer is an early Bronze Age man whose grave was discovered during excavations at the site of a new housing development in Amesbury. Found on 3rd May 2002, the strongly built 35-45 year old Bronze Age man is believed to date from about 2300 BC and is nicknamed "The Archer" because of the sixteen barbed and tanged flint arrowheads that were among the 190 artefacts buried with him.

For much of his adult life the archer carried a serious injury to his left knee, which had caused an infection of the bone, probably leaving him in constant pain; he also had a tooth abscess that had penetrated his jaw. At his death, he was placed in a flexed position on his left hand side and with his face to the north. At the side of the Archer was another grave of a younger man (around 20-25 years old) who had another pair of gold 'earrings' just like the Archer's inside his jaw. Analysis of their bones indicate they shared a rare hereditary anomaly, but what their relationship was is not known. Radiocarbon dating suggests that the second burial is slightly later than that of the Archer. 

amesbury archer remains In the archers grave were:
  • Complete skeleton of a man
  • Three copper knives
  • Two small gold earrings dated to as early as 2,470BC 
  • Cushion stone used for metal working
  • Two sandstone wristguards to protect his wrists from the bow string
  • 16 barbed & tanged flint arrowheads (ancientcraft replica below)
  • Bone pin which would have been used to hold a piece of clothing such as a leather cloak
  • Five Beaker pots
  • Red deer spatula used for working flints
  • Four boars' tusks
  • Many flint tools and flakes
  • Animal skins fashioned into a cloak 

(© Salisbury Museum - with kind permission)


The Amesbury Archer grave, that was probably wood lined originally, is the richest Beaker burial from Britain and considered one of the ‘richest’ found in Europe. There is no surviving evidence to suggest that his grave was covered by a barrow. Oxygen isotope analysis of his tooth enamel suggests that he originally came from the Alpine region of Europe, either Switzerland, Austria or Germany, although the younger man, sometimes referred to as the Archer’s Companion, appears to have been raised in northern England or Scotland.

Amesbury archer grave goods

The character of "Arthmael" in Mark Patton's 2012 novel Undreamed Shores is based on the archer. A life-size Amesbury Archer sculpture erected near the Bowman Centre in Amesbury, was created by Lucy Quinnell and Adam Boydell. The remains of the Amesbury Archer is on display at the Salisbury Museum

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