A Lincoln archaeology firm made “a discovery of a lifetime” when it found a 5,000-year-old chalk sculpture of a ‘talismans drum’ in a grave of three children.
The drum was discovered near the village of Burton Agnes in East Yorkshire and will go on display at the British Museum from February 17.
The barrel-shaped cylindrical sculpture is only the fourth of its kind to have survived and still retains elaborate motifs that reaffirms a British and Irish artistic style that flourished at the same time as Stonehenge was build.
The discovery is similar to three ‘Folkton drums’ found in North Yorkshire in 1889. Neil Wilkin, curator of The world of Stonehenge at the British Museum, described it as “the most important piece of prehistoric art to be found in Britain in the last 100 years”.
It was really poignant to see the two small children holding each other, with the eldest child's arm around the other two. The Burton Agnes Drum was carefully placed against the head of the eldest child.
A very personal snapshot of life (and death) from 5,000 years ago. pic.twitter.com/9GnxNQDbZx
— Allen Archaeology 💙 (@allenarchaeo) February 11, 2022
It was found, along with the remains of three children, at a country estate in a routine excavation by Allen Archaeology as part of a planning process in 2015. The children are different ages and were buried in close contact in a moving scene.
The two youngest were placed in the grave touching or holding hands. The eldest child was laid in the grave holding the two younger children. The sculpture was found just above the head of the eldest child and it includes three hastily added holes. It is believed this is perhaps marking the presence of the three bodies in the grave.
The discovery has been the subject of extensive research and conservation work. Its existence has been revealed this week to be one of the most significant ancient objects ever found on the British Isles.
It will now go on public display for the very first time, along with all three Folkton drums, as part of the British Museum’s The World of Stonehenge exhibition which opens next week. It will be on loan from the Burton Agnes Estate and, after the exhibition, it will undergo further assessment and analysis.
Cova Escandon, who is a finds supervisor at Allen Archaeology, told The Lincolnite: “It is extremely exciting and we all feel very lucky and fortunate because of having such a find.
“It is a privelege to have such a find and to be able to collaborate with the British Museum in such an amazing exhibition. We have had good finds in the past, but nothing like this, this is a discovery of a lifetime for anyone.”
Allen Archaeology was founded in Lincoln by director Mark Allen in 2005. He was joined shortly after by Chris Clay who is now also a director, and the team has now grown to around 40 members of staff with a number of regional offices around England.
Director Mark Allen said: “We were aware that there was probably a funerary round barrow on the site as we had previously completed a geophysical survey of the site.
“This identifies changes in deposits beneath the surface and is particularly good at identifying earth-filled ditches hidden beneath the ploughsoil. On this occasion we could see a ring ditch, so were not surprised when we exposed the barrow.
“The central grave with the three children however was very much unexpected and we were stunned when the chalk drum was found in the central grave, along with the chalk ball and bone pin.
“It is great to see the Burton Agnes drum reunited with its Folkton cousins for the first time in 5,000 years as part of the The World of Stonhenge exhibition at the British Museum, and I cannot wait to see them together.”
Alice Beasley, who first uncovered the drum as project archaeologist for Allen Archaeology, said: “Discovering the chalk drum was a thrilling and humbling experience. Seeing the love and effort put into burying the individuals over 5,000 years ago was truly moving.”
The world of Stonehenge exhibition will run between February 17 and July 17. It is the UK’s first ever major exhibition on the history – and mystery – of Stonehenge – tickets for the exhibition are now on sale here.
Other highlights from the exhibition include the ‘Nebra Sky Disc’ which is the oldest surviving representation of the cosmos anywhere in the world, and is on loan to the UK for the first time.
Neil Wilkin, curator of The world of Stonehenge at the British Museum, said: “This is a truly remarkable discovery, and is the most important piece of prehistoric art to be found in Britain in the last 100 years.
“The Folkton drums have long remained a mystery to experts for well over a century, but this new example finally begins to give us some answers. To my mind, the Burton Agnes drum is even more intricately carved and reflects connections between communities in Yorkshire, Stonehenge, Orkney and Ireland. Analysis of its carvings will help to decipher the symbolism and beliefs of the era in which Stonehenge was constructed.”