Chalk drum from 5,000 years ago is most important prehistoric art find for century

A 5,000-year-old chalk sculpture discovered in east Yorkshire, due to be displayed at the British Museum, has been described as the most important piece of prehistoric art to be found in Britain in the last century.

The object, which archaeologists have named the “Burton Agnes drum”, is a chalk sculpture which had been decorated with motifs similar to the artistic style at the same time as Stonehenge was built. The drum was discovered alongside the burial of three children.

The sculpture, which will be displayed to the public at the British Museum, is decorated with patterns that fit an artistic style from around the same time Stonehenge was built.

The Burton Agnes drum’s significance lies in its similarity to three drums that were uncovered 15 miles away in Folkton, North Yorkshire, in 1889.

The drums are all barrel-shaped cylinders of solid chalk that were found at burial sites – it is thought that they were not used for music, but rather decoration.

Carbon-dating of bones buried alongside the Burton Agnes drum placed it within the years 3005-2890BC.

It is thought that the near-identical Folkton drums are from the same time, making them 500 years older than thought.

Archaeologists said this confirms that the drums were made at the same time as the first construction phase of Stonehenge.

This suggests that at the same time as the monument’s columns were being moved from west Wales to Salisbury Plain, communities across Britain and Ireland were also sharing artistic styles, and likely beliefs, over long distances.

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.”

He said the Burton Agnes drum “reflects connections between communities in Yorkshire, Stonehenge, Orkney and Ireland”.

Three children were found buried alongside the drum, suggesting it played a role in the mourning rituals of prehistoric Britons.

“The discovery of the Burton Agnes grave is highly moving. The emotions the new drum expresses are powerful and timeless, they transcend the time of Stonehenge and reflect a moment of tragedy and despair that remains undimmed after 5,000 years,” Mr Wilkin said.