A 5,000-year-old chalk drum sculpture is one of the most significant artistic discoveries of the last century in the UK, according to the British Museum.
“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,” Neil Wilkin, the curator of a new exhibit featuring the discovery, said in a press release.
Initially discovered in 2015, the drum sculpture is set to be displayed for the first time at the British Museum this week.
Despite being found 380 kilometers (240 miles) from Stonehenge in Burton Agnes, East Yorkshire, the drum will form part of the “The World of Stonehenge” exhibit, as it is from the same era and its style resembles that of objects found at the site.
The drum – which is not believed to have been used as a musical instrument, but rather as a piece of art or talisman – was discovered alongside the remains of three children. Aged between three and 12, the children were “cuddling”, according to the Washington Post. Two were facing one another, with their hands entwined, while the third appeared to have their arms around the pair.
The find is especially rare given that burials were not commonplace in Neolithic Britain. Bodies were more likely cremated or left out for wildlife to consume.
Radiocarbon dating of a bone from one of the children places the burial at around 3005 to 2890 BCE. This is the first time archaeologists have been able to reliably date such an object – there are three other drums, almost identical to this new one, that were previously discovered 24 kilometers (15 miles) away in Folkton.
This new information confirms that all four drums were made during the first construction phase of Stonehenge, 500 years later than was previously thought.
The style of the Burton Agnes drum echoes that of Stonehenge and other Neolithic sites across Britain and Ireland.
“To my mind, the Burton Agnes drum is even more intricately carved and reflects connections between communities in Yorkshire, Stonehenge, Orkney and Ireland,” Wilkin added.
It is “one of the most elaborately decorated objects of this period found anywhere in Britain and Ireland,” the British Museum said.
"This drum is particularly intriguing, because it basically encompasses a sort of artistic language that we see throughout the British Isles at this time, and we're talking 5,000 years ago," Jennifer Wexler, the exhibition’s project curator, told CNN.
As well as the drum, a chalk ball and bone pin were found at the burial site. The ball, the British Museum says, could be a fertility symbol or a child’s toy.
The Burton Agnes drum, alongside the Folkton drums, will be displayed at the British Museum from February 17.