March 18, 2022 6.30 pm

University brings 5,000-year-old sculpture found by Lincoln archaeologists back to life

Featuring in an exhibition at the British Museum 

A 5,000-year-old chalk sculpture featuring in The World of Stonehenge exhibition at the British Museum has been conserved at the University of Lincoln.

Lincoln-based Allen Archaeology made “a discovery of a life-time” when they found the sculpture of a ‘talismans drum’ in a grave of three children as part of a planning process in 2015.

The drum was discovered near the village of Burton Agnes in East Yorkshire and is now on display as part of the British Museum’s The World of Stonehenge exhibition until July 17, 2022.

It will be displayed alongside over 400 other items, including the Folkton drums, to give an insight into Stonehenge and the Bronze Age. After the exhibition it will undergo further assessment and analysis.

It was named after the location in which it was found – the ‘Burton Agnes Drum’ – and has been conserved at the University of Lincoln.

The drum was documented, stabilised and cleaned at the university over a three-month period between February and May 2016.

| Photo: British Museum/Allen Archaeology

Cathy Daly, senior lecturer in conservation at the school of history and heritage at the university, said: “It was exciting to work on such an amazing object, cleaning compacted soil from the soft chalk surface was a challenge but I’m grateful that Allen Archaeology and the Burton Agnes Landowners placed their trust in us to do this work.

“The conservation treatment stabilised the drum and exposed the carved design and the faint toolmarks on the surface for the first time in 5,000 years. It’s wonderful that the public can now get to see this object on display.”

Only the fourth of its kind, the drum was found in a burial with three children that has been dated to between 2890BC and 3000BC. A chalk ball and long tapered pin made from animal bone was also discovered next to the drum.

The drum’s significance lies in its striking carvings, reflecting the style popular in Western Europe 5000 years ago, around the time Stonehenge was thought to have been built. It is also very similar in form to three drums that were uncovered 15 miles away, in Folkton, North Yorkshire in 1889.

| Photo: British Museum/Allen Archaeology

The patterns and features of the drum, including its solid cylindrical shape has led archaeologists to conclude it was primarily a decorative item and, given its inclusion in the burial, some symbolic meaning.

The bottom surface of the drum is undecorated but there is carved detail on the curved face and on the top. The incised decoration consists of concentric circles and geometric designs, often accentuated with hatching or use of a checkered pattern.

The drum was found in a grave of three children. 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.

Lincoln-based Allen Archaeology made the discovery of a 5,000-year-old chalk sculpture in a grave of three children. | Photo: Allen Archaeology

Cova Escandon, who is a finds supervisor at Allen Archaeology, previously 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.”