Analysis of stone objects found among grave goods from a 4,000-year-old burial near Stonehenge has revealed them to be tools used in the process of goldworking.
The stone tools were unearthed from a Bronze Age barrow excavated near Upton Lovell, Wiltshire, in 1801.
Two individuals had been interred in the mound in association with numerous other grave goods, including 40 perforated bone points thought to have formed part of an ornate costume, a copper alloy awl, two broken battle axes, four polished flint axes, and three perforated boars’ tusks.
Currently on display at the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes, the grave goods had been part of the World of Stonehenge exhibition at the British Museum.
As part of the Leverhulme-funded ‘Beyond the Three Ages System’ project, a team of researchers from the University of Leicester and University of Southampton carried out scanning electron microscope (SEM-EDS) analysis on many of the site’s stone and copper-alloy grave goods.
They identified the presence of gold residues on the surface of five stone objects.
Subsequent microwear analysis of the stone tools revealed they had been used in a number of different ways – some were likely used for smoothing materials, whilst others were used as hammers and anvils.
These findings suggests that the tools facilitated the production of sheetgold, used to embellish objects crafted from other materials such as jet, shale, amber, or wood.
‘At the recent World of Stonehenge exhibition at the British Museum, we know that the public was blown away by the amazing 4,000-year-old goldwork on display,’ said Dr Rachel Crellin from the University of Leicester, and the study’s lead author.
‘What our work has revealed is the humble stone toolkit that was used to make gold objects thousands of years ago.’
Their results also raise new questions about the identity of the individuals buried there, with the team suggesting that this may be the grave of a highly skilled craftsman.
The full findings have been published in Antiquity. Look out for further details about this exciting discovery in an upcoming issue of Current Archaeology.