University Brings 5000-Year-Old Chalk Sculpture Back to Life for British Museum Exhibition

The 'Burton Agnes Drum' has been conserved at the University of Lincoln

04 Apr 2022

A 5,000-year-old chalk sculpture, discovered within the Yorkshire countryside and named after the location in which it was found, the 'Burton Agnes Drum' has been conserved at the University of Lincoln.  

Chalk+Sculpture Agnes Drum.jpg
© Henning Schulze


The drum was documented, stabilised and cleaned at the University over a 3-month period between February and May 2016.

Only the fourth of its kind, the drum was found in a burial with three children that has been dated to between 2890BC and 3000BC. A chalk ball and long tapered pin made from animal bone was also discovered next to the drum.

Cathy Daly, Senior Lecturer in Conservation at the School of History and Heritage at the University said: 

It was exciting to work on such an amazing object, cleaning compacted soil from the soft chalk surface was a challenge but I'm grateful that Allen Archaeology and the Burton Agnes Landowners placed their trust in us to do this work. 

The conservation treatment stabilised the drum and exposed the carved design and the faint toolmarks on the surface for the first time in 5,000 years. It's wonderful that the public can now get to see this object on display.


The drum’s significance lies in its striking carvings, reflecting the style popular in Western Europe 5000 years ago, around the time Stonehenge was thought to have been built. It is also very similar in form to three drums that were uncovered 15 miles away, in Folkton, North Yorkshire in 1889.  

The patterns and features of the drum, including its solid cylindrical shape has led archaeologists to conclude it was primarily a decorative item and, given its inclusion in the burial, some symbolic meaning.

The bottom surface of the drum is undecorated but there is carved detail on the curved face and on the top. The incised decoration consists of concentric circles and geometric designs, often accentuated with hatching or use of a checkered pattern.  

The drum features within The World of Stonehenge exhibit at the British Museum and will be on display alongside over 400 other items, including the Folkton drums, to give insight into Stonehenge and the Bronze Age. 

The World of Stonehenge exhibition will be running until Sunday 17 July 2022.


If you want to find out more about the conservators at University of Lincoln, the current issue of Icon News (no. 99, April 2022) features an article  by Leah Warriner-Wood, Lecturer in Conservation at the University of Lincoln, discussing collaboration between organisations and its impact on students at the University. (p.33-36)

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