Hundreds of treasures from the golden age of Stonehenge have gone on permanent display in England, revealing the story of the people who lived amidst the area when the monument was one of the great religious focal points of western Europe.
Housed in a large, specially-designed high security and humidity-controlled exhibition facility inside the Wiltshire Museum in Devizes, 15 miles north of the megalithic stone circle, the objects make England's largest collection of early Bronze-Age gold.
"Stonehenge is an iconic monument, but this is the first time that such a wide range of high status objects from the spectacular burials of the people who used it, has ever been put on permanent display," David Dawson, director of the Wiltshire Museum.
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Most of the 500 Neolithic objects on show were unearthed within a half mile radius of Stonehenge, including 30 gold pieces which were excavated in 1808 from a burial mound known as Bush Barrow.
Found by William Cunnington, Britain's first professional archaeologist, the objects became known as the crown jewels of the "King of Stonehenge."
Overlooking Stonehenge itself, the burial indeed contained the skeleton of a chieftain who lived almost 4,000 years ago. He was buried in regal splendor with the objects that showed his power and authority.
Among the treasures on display are a magnificent bronze dagger with a gold covered haft, a golden sheath for a dagger, a ceremonial axe, gold beads, necklaces, earrings, pendants and other gold jewellery, a unique jet disc (used to fasten a luxury garment), rare traces of ancient textiles and two of the finest prehistoric flint arrow head ever found.
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"Many of the items may well have been worn by Bronze Age priests and chieftains as they worshiped inside Stonehenge," Dawson said.
"Axes and daggers on display are identical to images of weapons carved into the giant stones of Stonehenge itself," he added.
The exhibition's centerpiece is the beautifully decorated gold lozenge found on the chest of the "King of Stonehenge."
Although the purpose of the gold lozenge remains a mystery - interpretations have ranged from an elaborate button to an astronomical instrument - its precise decorations, made of impressed lines, reveals a detailed knowledge of mathematics and geometry.
"All this was done with the naked eye as there were no magnifying glasses or microscopes," Dawson told London's Times.
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The museum hopes that the $1.2 million exhibition will help attract more tourists to Devizes, generating jobs in the local community.
"Devizes is mid-way between two of the world's most important ancient monuments - the great prehistoric stone circles of Stonehenge and Avebury. Visiting the Wiltshire Museum completes the experience of seeing these two iconic sites," Dawson said.
Image: Some of the objects on display. Credit: Wiltshire Museum