Schoolboys uncover 'Amesbury Archer of the North' at Kirkhaugh burial site

Finds link Kirkhaugh burial to the Amesbury Archer at Stonehenge - and the first metal working in Britain

Left to right, Aidan Bell, Luca Alderson, Joseph Bell and Sebastian Alderson
Left to right, Aidan Bell, Luca Alderson, Joseph Bell and Sebastian Alderson

Schoolboy brothers have struck gold at a Northumberland site and provided a vital link with one of the most celebrated prehistoric burials to be found in Britain.

The early Bronze Age grave of the man known as the Amesbury Archer was found in 2002 near Stonehenge and contained flint arrowheads, metal working tools, Beaker culture pots and two gold hair tresses.

Analysis of the Amesbury Archer’s teeth revealed he grew up in the Alpine region of Europe and died on his visit to Stonehenge.

Now a burial cairn dig at Kirkhaugh in the South Tyne Valley has unearthed a similar gold tress, and three flint arrowheads.

It raises the probability that the Kirkhaugh man is the Amesbury Archer of the North, who could have travelled to Britain from overseas in search of gold and copper.

The 4,300-year old tress is the partner gold ornament to the one found during a previous dig at the site in 1935 led by Herbert Maryon, which is in the Great North Museum in Newcastle.

Also found in 1935 was a cushion stone, used for metal working and similar to that discovered with the Amesbury Archer, fragments of an early beaker, and an arrowhead.

The gold hair tress unearthed by the Alston schoolboys
The gold hair tress unearthed by the Alston schoolboys

The Kirkhaugh and Amesbury sites are the only locations in Britain where early metal worker’s graves with gold ornaments have been found.

While the Amesbury Archer was buried near Stonehenge, the Kirkhaugh grave is only 20km as the crow flies from the stone circle of Long Meg and Her Daughters and is on the opposite side of the valley to the Roman fort of Epiacum, which is believed to have been built to regulate lead mining in the area.

The dig is being carried out by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Partnership’s Altogether Archaeology project, backed by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Paul Frodsham, who leads Altogether Archaeology project, said: “This is exceptional.

“It can be regarded as marking the very start of mineral exploitation in the North Pennines, leading in due course to Roman exploitation of lead and silver, and eventually to the vast post-medieval lead industry for which the region is internationally famous.”

The find was made by Joseph Bell, aged seven, and his brother Aidan, 10, and Luca Alderson, eight, and his brother Sebastian, 10, all from Alston.

In an unlikely turn of events, Sebastian and Luca are the great-great grandsons of Joseph William Alderson, who was part of the 1935 excavation team.

Joseph said: “We were digging carefully in the ground and I saw something shiny. It was gold. Me and Luca started dancing with joy. It was very exciting.”

The gold hair tress
The gold hair tress

The boys went along to the dig, at Randalholme Farm, after taking part in an Altogether Archaeology project at school at Alston Primary.

Sebastian said: “To take part in the actual excavation, and to find things, was awesome.”

Aidan said: “We went to see the site before it had been dug up with our class. I can’t wait to go back to school to tell everyone.”

The team were invited to undertake the dig by William and Joan Raine of Randalholme Farm. Joan said “We always knew the burial mound existed, but never thought there would be such interesting artefacts still to be found.

“I was lucky enough to find one of the beautiful flint arrowheads, which was a wonderful experience.”

They excavated under the watchful eye of Professor Andrew Fitzpatrick, assisted by archaeologists from the Archaeological Practice, Newcastle.

Andrew, who also led the dig which unearthed the Amesbury Archer, said: “The tress rings discovered at Kirkhaugh are examples of the very first gold objects found in Britain. The person buried at Kirkhaugh was clearly of very high status.

“I don’t think it is a coincidence that the grave it is on the edge of the Alston ore field. I think the man buried at Kirkhaugh was part of a small group that was prospecting for copper over 4,000 years ago.”

Paul added: “When the metal worker arrived in the area I’m sure he’ll have been seen as someone very exotic and special because the chances are that no one here will have ever seen a metal object until he showed up.

“We can only assume he was buried here, alone, because he was a long way from home and died unexpectedly.

“It’s intriguing to consider people from far away, thousands of years ago, may have travelled to the North Pennines in search of precious metals.

“The man buried at Kirkhaugh has certainly left a fascinating legacy for us to contemplate.”


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