Wiltshire Museum is the county’s fourth most popular attraction after Stonehenge, Salisbury Cathedral and Stourhead, the museum’s director David Dawson has revealed.
Dr Dawson, giving Devizes Festival’s museum lecture at the town hall on Monday evening, said the museum housed the best Bronze Age collection outside London and its new galleries, officially opened by Princess Anne a couple of months ago, now showed them off to their best advantage.
The current exhibition, Gold From The Time Of Stonehenge, featured artefacts from some of the earliest excavations in Wiltshire.
Principal among these is the Bush Barrow find, excavated by William Cunnington and Richard Colt-Hoare in the late 18th century.
They unearthed the final resting place of a chieftain who was buried with a selection of items including a gold lozenge-shaped breastplate, intricately inscribed with an zig-zag pattern.
Dr Dawson said: “The angle of the edge of the lozenge is 81 degrees, the difference between where the sun rises at the midsummer and midwinter solstices at Stonehenge. This means they understood geometry and measuring.”
A dagger found in the grave was decorated with around 140,000 gold studs.
The chieftain also had a ceremonial axe and mace, indicating he was a man of some stature and was buried in a foetal position, ready for his rebirth in the next world.
Five miles away from Stonehenge, the grave of a Shaman, or witch doctor, was discovered. The Roundway Archer was found closer to the site in 1855.
Dr Dawson concluded: “The creation of the new galleries has succeeded in attracting some of the many thousands of people who come to Wiltshire each year to visit Stonehenge and Avebury.”