Book review: Archer, Journey to Stonehenge by Jane Brayne

Archer, Journey to Stonehenge by Jane Brayne

This newly published comic strip style picture-book tells a story of a young man’s journey from the Alps to Stonehenge. It is based on a discovery of a man buried near Stonehenge just outside Amesbury in 2002. Examination of his body showed he had grown up in the Alps and had journeyed to Britain when a young man. This book is an imaginative look at what that journey might have been for, and what is might have been like. Jane Brayne, the author and illustrator, was the first person to ever draw a reconstruction of the Amesbury Archer and now has drawn his entire story.

The book is packed full of research, from the patterns on the clothes that the people of the Alps wear based on standing stones of the region, to how copper was smelted and cast, to the inclusion of Bluestonehenge, a new henge on the River Avon at the start of the Stonehenge Avenue that was only discovered in 2008.

Many aspects of the book are more speculative, like the function of the standing stones at Carnac in Brittany, the method of sailing on rivers and the sea, and the ‘Observers’ at Stonehenge, and this provides some great material for discussion about what these monuments were for.

Information about the Archer in the back of the book.

Objects that were found in the Amesbury Archer’s grave appear in the story itself, such as the gold tress rings for his hair, the metalworking tools, the stone bracer he wore on his wrist to protect it from a bowstring, the antler pin that was a gift from his father, the boars tusks that he hunted when he became a man and, most importantly, the copper dagger, which is currently still the earliest known metal in Britain. Making a biography for each of those objects really makes them so much more significant when studying his grave, which is mentioned in the back of the book. For many years the idea of a group of people bringing a new style of pottery called Beaker Folk was ridiculed in the archaeological world, but when the Archer was found with a beaker and having come from the Alps, the idea has become mainstream again.

Another great topic is how Stonehenge is portrayed, as perhaps somewhere usually off limits and strictly controlled, but also how one of the main times for engaging with the stone circle was at the midwinter sunset, as well as at midsummer sunrise, as the alignments are exactly opposite each other at this latitude.

The great hunting grounds of the afterlife in Archer, Journey to Stonehenge by Jane Brayne

In the end it is also sad to think the Amesbury Archer didn’t get back to his homeland, which he longs to do in the book, but died and was buried near Stonehenge. In the book Brayne suggests that the people of the time believed that spirits of the dead went on to the great hunting ground, but you can see the Amesbury Archer’s skeleton in Salisbury Museum.

3 thoughts on “Book review: Archer, Journey to Stonehenge by Jane Brayne

  1. ‘King of Stonehenge?’ asked the Daily Mail. BBC television news dubbed the man dead man ‘The Amesbury Archer’. The ‘richest’ Beaker burial yet found in Britain made the news from The Sun to The Times. All good stuff for an excavation in advance of the building of a new school at Boscombe Down, near Amesbury, Wiltshire. Up to the time that the burial of the Amesbury Archer was discovered, the main interest had been a (rather fine) late Romano-British inhumation cemetery. Only two, or perhaps three, of the burials that were excavated are of Early Bronze Age date. There is no surviving evidence to suggest that the grave of the Archer was covered by a barrow, but the barrows that surmount a number of Beaker burials are small and as there is evidence for a timber mortuary chamber, it may be that there was once a small mound of earth or turf. The Amesbury Archer lived to be between 35-50 years old. His mourner’s buried him in a flexed position on his left hand side and with his face to the north. Buried alongside him were the accoutrements of a hunter or warrior, and other symbols of status. Some of the objects found in the grave hint at how he was dressed or adorned when he was buried. On his forearm there was a slate ‘wristguard’ or ‘bracer’, perhaps to protect his arm from the recoil of the bow; perhaps a symbol of status. Next to the wristguard was a bone pin that may have held a leather cloak or mantle. Partly covered by his torso was a tanged copper knife that may have been worn in a sheath on the chest. Within touching distance of the dead man’s face were two Beakers, a spatula for working flints made from red deer, boars tusks, a cache of flints, and another smaller tanged copper knife. Some, perhaps all, of these things are likely to have been in a small bag or container. Many of the flints were tools, including flint knives, scrapers, arrowhead blanks, other items include unused flint flakes and a nodule of iron from a strike-a-light. Behind the man’s back lay another Beaker, more boars tusks, and another cache of flints. In contrast to the cache in front of the Archer, many of the tools had been used. Next to this was a stone, perhaps a cushion stone used in metalworking or a whetstone. Scattered over the Archer’s waist and legs but at a slightly higher level than the other grave goods were 15 barbed and tanged arrowheads. The height at which they were found suggests that they were scattered over the man’s lower body and legs, and not placed on the floor of the timber chamber. Two more Beakers lay by the man’s bottom and feet. By his knees there was another ‘wristguard’ or ‘bracer’, a third small tanged copper knife, a shale ring, presumably a belt ring, and two gold ‘basket earrings.’ These finds suggest that some pieces of costume or regalia were placed in the grave by the body rather than on or over it.

    • Hi Elizabeth, you can get it online on Amazon or Waterstones, or go to Jane’s website and drop her a line to buy one direct from the author using PayPal. I’m sure she’d sign it for your grandchildren! Kim

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