A 5,000 year old drum

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5,000 year old drum found in children’s grave Photo: Allen Archaeology

A 5,000 years old chalk drum discovered in the grave of three children is probably the ‘most important piece of prehistoric art’ discovered in Britain in the last century. The drum was discovered in 2015 in the village of Burton Agnes in East Yorkshire and is now on display at the British Museum in London as part of the spectacular ‘World of Stonehenge’ exhibition.

The children in the grave were of differing ages. The two younger ones had been placed holding hands while the eldest child was found embracing them. The chalk drum, which is not believed to be a musical instrument but a protective talisman, was found lying above the head of the eldest child. Three holes in the drum are thought to indicate the presence of three bodies in the grave.

A chalk ball and polished bone pin were also found in the grave underneath one of the children’s heads. The significance of both objects is unclear but similar items from the same period have been uncovered elsewhere in Yorkshire.

The 5,000 year old drum with bone pin and chalk ball. Photo: British Museum/Allen Archaeology

Radiocarbon dating of one child’s bones dates the burial to between 3,005 –2,890BC, the same period during which Stonehenge was first constructed. The elaborate motifs on the drum exhibit a British and Irish artistic style which flourished at the time Stonehenge was built. Similar items have been found at other burials across Britain, suggesting that a shared culture existed at the time. British Museum curator Neil Wilkin explained: “This tells us that there was an ‘artistic style’ … which reflects connections between communities in Yorkshire, Stonehenge, Orkney and Ireland.”

The site of the children’s grave at Burton Agnes in Yorkshire. Photo: Allen Archaeology
The motifs are thought to have either symbolic or religious meaning. Photo: British Museum/Allen Archaeology

The Burton Agnes drum is currently on display in the Stonehenge exhibition at the British Museum. After the exhibition, it will undergo further analysis.

Although Stonehenge itself is world-famous, most people are unaware of what was happening in Britain and Europe in this period of prehistory. The aim of the ‘World of Stonehenge’ exhibition is to place the monument in context in order to provide visitors with a broader understanding of the era in which it was created. The exhibition is open until 17 July.

More information at: https://www.britishmuseum.org/exhibitions/world-stonehenge

Text     Alun Harvey

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