Ask most people in the UK, or indeed around the world, what Britain’s most famous prehistoric monument is and Stonehenge is likely to be at the top of most peoples’ lists. The site, located in Wiltshire, England, has captivated people for centuries. In recent years, more and more attention has been given to the landscape around it, which is found to be rich in pre-historic history, but in popular culture is less well known.
Recently, controversy has arisen around the proposed dualling of the A303 and creation of the Stonehenge tunnel, which according to Transport England, will remove traffic from the Stonehenge’s setting, thereby conserving and enhancing the site. On the other hand, opponents to the scheme argue that it would Introduce a massive change to the country’s ‘premier prehistoric landscape’, disturb species such as stone curlew and the great bustard and lower the water table, thereby eradicating the preservation of archaeological remains. Whatever the rights or wrongs of the proposal are, any works will be required to carry out archaeological surveys and this could yield some exciting discoveries.
Such a situation occurred in 2002 when a survey at a development site in Amesbury, just three miles from Stonehenge, revealed an unexpected treasure. Work was taking place where a school was planned to be built when a grave with pottery from the Beaker period, which is dated to around 2,800 to 1,800 BC, was found. Within the grave the archaeologists found the remains of single man, who came to be known as the Amesbury Archer and dubbed by the press as the King of Stonehenge.
The man buried with some of the richest articles from the early Bronze Age. In all, around 100 objects were found in the grave including three copper knives, two small gold hair tresses, two sandstone wristguards (these would have protected his wrist from the bow string), five pots, 16 flint arrowheads, a cushion stone (used for metal working), a bone pin (used to hold together a piece of clothing such as a cloak) and what is thought to be Britain’s first gold objects, dating ack to around 2,500BC. It was because of the worth of the gold that the man was named the ‘King of Stonehenge’ while the items related to archery; the arrow flint heads and wrist guards led to the skeleton being known as the Amesbury Archer.
Parts of the skeleton were tested which showed he was aged between 35 and 45 at the time of his death. From the enamel on teeth it was discovered that he had grown up in central Europe within the Alps region and it is unknown when he moved to Britain. From the skeleton it was possible to tell that he was strongly built but a nasty abscess on his jaw as well has having an injury to his left knee cap, which had been ripped off, probably leaving him with a nasty and lingering bone infection.
The find was important as it was the first example of what is thought to be a person in power. The time of his burial seems to coincide with the erection of the main stones at Stonehenge and it is possible that he had an important role in its creation. Certainly, his mourners clearly considered him important enough to be buried near to (if not in the immediate area of) Stonehenge. An alternative hypontheisis is that the skeleton is that of a pilgrim to Stonehenge who was there to draw on the 'healing properties' of the bluestones.
However, his grave is of particular importance because of its connections with Continental Europe and early copper smelting technology. He is believed to have been one of the earliest gold metalworkers in Britain and his discovery supports interpreters who claim that the diffusion of Beaker Culture pottery was the result of population movement, rather than just the widespread adoption of an artefact 'package'.
His skeleton is now on display at the Salisbury Museum:
These scenes were built by James Pegrum as part of a series of models on British history. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
Cnut the Great, also known as Canute, was crowned King of England on January 6th 1017 in Old St. Paul's Cathedral, London. He would later also gain the thrones of Denmark (1018) and Norway (1028) and ruled over what is often referred to as the North Sea Empire until his death in 1035. He is popularly invoked in the context of the legend of King Canute and the waves, which usually misrepresents him as a deluded monarch believing he has supernatural powers, contrary to the original legend which portrays a wise king who rebuked his courtiers for their fawning behaviour.
Cnut was a son of the Danish prince Sweyn Forkbeard, who was the son and heir to King Harald Bluetooth of Denmark. Sweyn became King of Denmark and Norway in 986 and raided England between 1002 and 1012. In 1013 he even led his forces in a full scale invasion. During this invasion England’s King Æthelred the Unready, and his sons Edward and Alfred, fled to Normandy, so on Christmas Day 1013, Sweyn was declared King of England.
However, Sweyn died on February 3rd 1014 and while his Elder son Harald II succeeded him as King of Denmark, Cnut was declared King of England by the Norse people of the Danelaw. The English nobility however recalled Æthelred from Normandy and the restored English king swiftly led an army against Cnut, who was forced to flee with his army to Denmark. There, supported by his brother, Cnut succeeded in assembling an army of around 10,000 men and a fleet of some 200 longships with which to launch another invasion. In the summer of 1015, they set sail.
Following a bloody campaign, in late 1015 Wessex submitted to Cnut and in early 1016 his army was able to cross the Thames, moving northwards across eastern Mercia. Æthelred’s son, Edmund Ironside retreated north to join Uhtred, Earl of Northumbria and together they returned south and harried Danish allies in western Mercia. Cnut however occupied Northumbria, forcing Uhtred to return home to submit himself to Cnut, who sent a Northumbrian rival, Thurbrand the Hold, to assassinate Uhtred and his retinue.
Edmund was now in London, where he was elevated to king on the death of Æthelred on April 23rd 1016. While the Danish attempted to lay siege to the city, Edmund managed to break out to gather an army and battles were fought at Penselwood in Somerset and Sherston in Wiltshire. Edmund was even able to temporarily relieve London, driving his Fanish enemies away and defeating them after crossing the Thames at Brentford. This was at a heavy cost to his army however, and he was forced to retreat to gather more men. Cnut’s forces were also unsuccessful in their siege and were driven off by an attacking English army.
On October 18th 1016, Edmund was decisively defeated in the Battle of Assandun in Essex, though a further battle would still need to be fought near the Forest of Dean to bring about a conclusion. In this Edmund was wounded and so on an island near Deerhurst in Gloucestershire, Cnut and Edmund met to negotiate terms of peace. It was agreed that all of England north of the Thames was to be the domain of the Danish prince, while all to the south was kept by the English king, along with London. Accession to the reign of the entire realm was set to pass to Cnut upon Edmund's death, who then conveniently died a few weeks later on November 30th. Cnut was left as king of all of England.
Cnut ruled England for nearly two decades. The protection he lent against Viking raiders restored the prosperity that had been increasingly impaired since the resumption of Viking attacks in the 980s. In turn the English helped him to establish control over the majority of Scandinavia. He is generally remembered as a wise and successful king of England, although this view may in part be attributable to his good treatment of the Church, keeper of the historic record.
Following the death of his brother Harald in 1018, Cnut united the English and Danish Kingdoms. In 1023, taking advantage of Cnut’s commitment to England, the Norwegian king Olaf Haraldsson began to launch attacks on Denmark. Cnut was forced to sail from England and fought an army of Norwegians and Swede’s in the Battle of the Helgeå, probably in 1026. His victory there left him as the dominant leader in Scandinavia.
In 1027, Cnut referred to himself as king of "the Norwegians, and of some of the Swedes" and stated his intention to secure peace between the kingdoms of Scandinavia. The following year, he set off from England to Norway with a fleet of about fifty ships. Olaf Haraldsson stood down, unable to put up any fight as his nobles had already abandoned him. And so, Cnut was crowned king, now of England, Denmark and Norway as well as part of Sweden and what became known as the North Sea Empire reached its greatest extent. Olaf Haraldsson attempted to retake Norway, but was killed at the Battle of Stiklestad in 1030.
Cnut died on November 12th 1035. In England, he was succeeded by his son Harald Harefoot while, his other son Harthacnut succeeded in Denmark. In 1040 Harthacnut would also succeed to the English Throne, following the death of his brother. Norway passed to Magnus the Good, an illegitimate son of Olaf II.
These scenes were built by James Pegrum and Dan Harris as part of a series of models on the Kings and Queens of England. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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