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June 2003

Body of Evidence

Where did the "King of Stonehenge" really hail from?

Though we shy away from a thematic approach to every issue of MUNICH FOUND, sometimes a subject just seems to wash over us, as was the case this month, when we suddenly found the subject of water bubbling up everywhere. What else could we do other than go with the flow? And we are going to kick off this month with the contentious claim that one of Britain’s best-loved monuments was, in fact, the work of a Bavarian. To find out what this has to do with water read on.

What the pyramids are to Egypt and the Great Wall to China, Stonehenge, it seems, may be to Bavaria. Surely Britain’s greatest national icon, Stonehenge symbolizes mystery, power and longevity. More than 4,000 years ago, people of the Neolithic period decided to build a massive monument using earth, timber and eventually stone structures. The complex was altered and remodeled over a period of more than 1,400 years. Yet, why anyone decided to build it remains a mystery, with theories ranging from religion to astronomy. Some of the structure still stands, and whatever its original function, the mysterious and sacred aura emanating from Stonehenge is as palpable on a June afternoon in the year 2003 as it was to the people who erected it—one of whom it seems may have been Bavarian.

In the spring of 2002 in Amesbury, about two miles from the great stone edifice, an early Bronze Age grave was discovered. Radiocarbon data show that the man found was buried around 2,300 BC (exactly the period when the stones were added to an earlier ditch and earth bank). He has been named the “King of Stonehenge” because of the number and type of objects found with him at the burial site. These include a metalworking tool (suggesting that the man was familiar with metals that were new to the region—perhaps he designed aids for the transportation of the bluestone stones, some of which weighed up to 26 tons), and hair ornaments or earrings, which are made of the oldest gold ever to be found in Britain (this gold may well have come from continental Europe). In addition chemical analysis of a knife found at the site shows that the metal blade came from Spain. Though much evidence would seem to point to his not being a native of the British Isles, more definite clues as to his origins were discovered after examining the man’s teeth.

Tests using Oxygen Isotope Analysis on the body’s tooth enamel point to an early life in the Bavarian Alps. Tooth enamel stores a chemical record of its owners’ childhood living environment, such as local climate and geology. The oxygen isotopes ratio in teeth can be compared with that of drinking water from different regions and determine where a person might have lived at the time their teeth developed. That our Alpine hero was a man of importance can be seen in his attire: a black wrist-guard, or bracer, for example, used to protect the lower arm from the recoil of a bow—another name given to the man is “The Archer”—was a great status symbol.

Of course it would be nice to discover the exact provenance of our corpse, and perhaps advances in science will tell us more in the years to come. In the meantime, however, remember not to swallow the water when you are swimming in one of Munich’s pools (see feature pages) this summer. It may leave traces for thousands of years. And if you are suspicious of the local tap water, check out this month’s Last Word.

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