Updated: Nov 8, 2022
The "Boy with the Amber Necklace," as he is known to archaeologists, was found in 2005, about 5km south-east of Stonehenge, England on Boscombe Down. The remains of the teenager were discovered next to a Bronze Age burial mound, during roadworks for military housing.
"He's around 14 or 15 years old and he's buried with this beautiful necklace," said Professor Jane Evans, head of archaeological science for the British Geological Survey. "The position of his burial, the fact he's near Stonehenge, and the necklace all suggest he's of significant status." Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, of Wessex Archaeology, backed this interpretation: "Amber necklaces are not common finds," he told BBC News in remarks made to the news organization. "Most archaeologists would say that when you find burials like this... people who have these rare and exotic materials are people of some importance."
"The position of his burial, the fact he's near Stonehenge, and the necklace all suggest he's of significant status."
Tooth enamel forms in a child's first few years, so it stores a chemical record of the environment in which the individual grew up. Chemical tests on the young lad's teeth indicate that the boy with the amber necklace grew up around the Mediterranean Sea. The bones belong to the teenager who died 3,550 years ago, while visiting Stonehenge. At the time of the young boy's visit Stonehenge was already at least 1500 years old. The boy's virtually intact skeleton was discovered at Boscombe Down, a mile from Stonehenge, by Wessex Archaeology during a housing development.
The scientists' conclusion; that the boy with the amber necklace hailed from the Mediterranean caused a great deal of excitement and got a lot of peoples' attention. The boy with the amber necklace quickly began to take on larger than life attributes.
He is proof that Stonehenge attracted tourists and and pilgrims millennia ago. He is an example of a family that quite possibly not only knew of the existence of the mysterious circle of stones, but actually understood what they were meant to be used for. He has also been held up as part of a cast of characters that thought nothing of making their way over a long and perilous distance to be part of something larger than themselves.
While some of the clues to the boy's origins came from his preserved remains, quite a bit of evidence was extracted from the Baltic amber beads around his neck. The style of the beads was not all in keeping with other amber beads that have been found in the Stonehenge vicinity---they were of the type made exclusively in the Mediterranean region during the Bronze Age. The amber beads also played an integral role in developing the hypothesis concerning the wealth of his family or tribe. Those amber beads found on the boy where the sole reason he was declared part of an extremely well-to-do family. Only people of wealth in that far away time would have had the means to possess that particular style of beads. It also suggests that this particular family or clan had the means to own slaves. Some of these slaves were most likely used as bodyguards, allowing the boy to wear his treasure in public places and to be able to travel freely while adorned in such opulence.
Perhaps the boy and his family came to Stonehenge for a healing of the body or the soul. Many people think of Stonehenge as a place of healing. Or perhaps the family came such a great distance to take part in rites having to do with sun worship or purification. Stonehenge has long been associated with the idea of a cyclical calendar complete with astrological signs and signals.
"At the time when the boy with the amber necklace was buried, there were really no new technologies coming into Britain... We need to turn to look at why groups of people - because this is a youngster - made these long journeys. Dr. Fitzpatrick speculated: "They may have been travelling within family groups... they may be coming to visit Stonehenge because it was an incredibly famous and important place, as it is today. But we don't know the answer."
The teenager is believed to have been part of a wealthy group that travelled 1,600 miles from southern Europe to Britain, taking in the stone circle along the way. His find is thought to be important because it is likely he was too young to travel on his own and was probably part of a larger family group. He is the third ancient foreigner to be found near the World Heritage Site in the last few years, but the other two were grown men thought to be tradesman or warriors.
His discovery further suggests that the stone circle would have been a place of pilgrimage or sightseeing akin to a medieval cathedral as long as 4,000 years ago. "They may have come to Britain for different reasons, but Stonehenge would have been well known across Europe – rather like a medieval cathedral," said Dr Andrew Fitzpatrick, part of Wessex Archaeology who made the find. "They may have come to trade but visited Stonehenge along the way. It would have been one of the greatest temples of its time."
Professor Jane Evans, of the British Geological Survey, who carried out the research, said that she believed that the monument would have been as awe-inspiring as Westminster Abbey or the launch of a Space Shuttle. "It must have been an incredible structure when it was built," she said. "They would have come to stare in amazement." Mike Pitts, editor of British Archaeology, said that families and tradesmen travelling to Britain would have taken time to see Stonehenge. "They would have made a detour to see what would have been a wonder of its time."
The amber to make the beads almost certainly came from the Baltic Sea. I'd like to add my point of view here, for what it is worth. Were the beads part of a trade or purchase made in the Mediterranean or perhaps, picked up along the way to Stonehenge? All told there were 90 large beads in the necklace. It was not something that everyday people wore when they were out and about. Could they have been a gift to a prestigious family to curry favor, or an heirloom passed on to the next in line? Was the status of the Boy so elevated that the amber necklace remained his in death as well as life? Perhaps the necklace was given to him in death by a grieving elder, heartbroken over the loss of the one who would have been their future Lord or King.
Could the family group the Boy was part of, brought him expressly to Stonehenge for a healing or a special rite of passage? Could the Boy have been a sacrificial lamb for the family's higher purpose? Was the Boy possibly a promised groom to a daughter of a prominent family hoping to create an alliance? They do not quite fit in as wanderers; they seem to have had a distinct destination in mind. And the means to make that destination a reality.
And what of the poor mother, leaving her son behind in a faraway land with only the comfort and protection of his amber necklace. Undoubtedly, he was the light of her life. Did the family leave England after the lad's passing or continue on to other glorious sites? Did they make the 1600-mile journey back to their roots in the Mediterranean? How did they come to possess the precious necklace? So many questions and so many stories intertwine around the Boy with the Amber Necklace. At the moment, it sparks our imagination with thoughts of travel, ancient history, mystery and myth.
It's been said many times, and I honestly believe it is true - amber has powers that are for our own good but has yet to give up all her secrets.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope it lit up your imagination as much as it did mine.
Andzia Chmil Stout
From a reprint of my article published in the Polish American Journal
Revised November 2022