This pottery cup was found buried among other precious grave goods with a person buried in a round barrow near Stonehenge. Probably a woman, she was buried nearly 3,000 years ago in the early Bronze Age. The pot is stuck all over with clay nodules and pierced with holes in between the nodules. But was it, and what was it for? Susan Greaney, archaeologist in the Properties Research team at English Heritage explains…
It has been suggested that this miniature ‘grape cup’ may have been used to hold incense or oils, perhaps during a Bronze Age burial ceremony. They are often found with cremation burials and seem to have usually accompanied female graves.
Many of the Bronze Age ‘Wessex’ burials around Stonehenge contained very rich grave goods, such as amber and gold pendants, axe shaped beads made from jet, bronze daggers and gold lozenges. These suggest that the people buried within the barrows were high status. Some of these are on display at the Stonehenge Visitor Centre and many more can be seen at Wiltshire Museum in Devizes.
The new Wessex Galleries at the Salisbury Museum also have a fantastic collection of artefacts from the Stonehenge World Heritage Site and help to place the story of Stonehenge within its wider chronological and regional context.
In the landscape all around Stonehenge there are cemeteries of early Bronze Age round barrows. It has been argued that Stonehenge was the place to be buried if you were rich and important. This was a change from when Stonehenge was first built – a time characterised by a Neolithic society that built great communal monuments but within which the individual was largely anonymous. There are no graves of rich individuals from this earlier time.
In contrast, for those who were buried in the later round barrows, like the one where the incense cup was found, the mourners chose to display their wealth or status in bronze, gold, jet and amber. They were apparently part of a new society that valued individual power and yet still chose to be buried close to Stonehenge – now an ancient relic of a past age.
The ‘grape cup’ is on loan to the Stonehenge exhibition and visitor centre from Wiltshire Museum, Devizes.