Monday, 29 September 2014

A initial map of General Pitt-Rivers' English archaeological collections

A map of Pitt-Rivers' English archaeological collections, assembled during the 1860s and 1870s
Earlier this month, the Excavating Pitt-Rivers team downloaded and transferred our project data, and shared it with our project partners - the British Museum's Portable Antiquities Scheme, as we move into the next phase of the project. The data comprise the locations at which the c. 10,986 English archaeological objects acquired by General Pitt-Rivers between c. 1866 and 1880 were excavated or found. These objects are those held by the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, and so do not include his later excavations on his estate at Cranborne Chase in the 1880s and 1890s: instead, they are a snapshot of the younger Pitt-Rivers at a crucial formative period in which he was developing his modern, scientific approach to archaeological fieldwork.

In the coming weeks, further data cleaning, checking and research will lead to the data being published through the Portable Antiquities Scheme, linking Museum records to databases that are shared with local archaeological groups, local authority Historic Environment Records, and researchers around the world. The data will also be shared through Europeana portal and the Collections Trust's Culture Grid. Funded by ESRC, this strand of research for the Excavating Pitt-Rivers project, which we have titled "From Museums to the Historic Environment" - experiments with using historic museum collections as resources for understanding England's historic environment today.

The screen grab above shows the initial geographic distribution of the c. 256 archaeological sites represented by the data set - a unique map of the beginning of modern archaeology, which will be developed, enhanced and refined in the coming weeks - watch this space! Meanwhile, you can consult a list of the sites represented in the collection in our previous post here - http://excavatingpittrivers.blogspot.co.uk/2014/06/pitt-rivers-and-english-archaeology.html

Thursday, 28 August 2014

A stone scraper from the Yorkshire Wolds


A prehistoric scraper from the Yorkshire Wolds
During August, we are publishing through this blog a series of new photographs taken by archaeological photographer Ian Cartwright for an online Image Gallery created with the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council. You can read more about the gallery here, and you can see the whole gallery online here.

Here is our caption for this image:

This prehistoric stone scraper, with a white patina and orange staining, dates from the Neolithic period, and its recorded provenance – “Yorkshire Wolds” – is relatively unspecific. The number written on the object indicates that the object was acquired by Pitt-Rivers by 1874, when he listed “13 Scrapers, Yorkshire Wolds” under the number ‘965’ in his personal catalogue of his collection. As well as this information, copied from earlier labels or markings by a modern curatorial hand, the number ‘10’ with an illegible word beneath are written in pencil. 

But the single word “Greenwell” connects the object to a highly significant moment in the history of archaeology. Canon William Greenwell (1820-1918) was an important Victorian antiquarian, who began excavating prehistoric barrows in Yorkshire in the mid 1860s. 

Pitt-Rivers would, during the 1860s and 1870s, develop the principles of modern scientific archaeological fieldwork and recording. The influences on him in this development were complex, but his experiences with Canon Greenwell were undoubtedly significant. Writing in the 1880s, Pitt-Rivers recalled that ‘My very first lessons as an excavator were derived from Canon Greenwell, during his well-known and valuable exploration in the Yorkshire Wolds, in the course of which I obtained a large amount of useful experience that has been a constant source of enjoyment and interest to me ever since’. 

He joined Greenwell’s field team in North Yorkshire during April 1867, excavating at Willerby Wold and Ganton Wold, and surveying a series of earthworks recorded on the Ordnance Survey maps of the area. On 26 April 1867, under the headline ‘The Opening of the Yorkshire Tumuli’, the Hull Packet and East Riding Times listed the archaeological team led by Canon Greenwell as ‘including the Rev. Dr Farrar of Durham; Colonel A. Lane Fox, Grenadier Guards; Mr J.H. Blackhouse, of Darlington; Mr Fairless Barber, of Rastrick, Huddersfield; Mr Burgess, of Huddersfield; Mr Charles Hartley, Mr Pycock, and Mr Monkman, of Malton, and others.' 

This object may have been acquired by Pitt-Rivers from Greenwell during the fieldwork, or at another time before 1874, but it represents evidence not only of the Neolithic of Yorkshire, but also of its place in the history of exchanges between Victorian antiquaries - and the beginnings of modern scientific fieldwork in archaeology.

(Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.133.56)

A prehistoric flint knife from Yorkshire

A prehistoric flint knife from Yorkshire

During August, we are publishing through this blog a series of new photographs taken by archaeological photographer Ian Cartwright for an online Image Gallery created with the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council. You can read more about the gallery here, and you can see the whole gallery online here.

Here is our caption for this image:

This prehistoric flint knife, with a curved edge and straight back, is probably Neolithic in date. Its recorded provenance, “Yorkshire”, is unspecific, but the faded number in black ink, ‘1337’, correlates with a manuscript source dating from 1874 in which Pitt-Rivers recorded a “triangular flint knife or arrowhead”. Since Pitt-Rivers was born in Yorkshire and returned there throughout his life, the object could have been acquired by him any time before 1874 (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.123.333).

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

A Roman Jug from Wroxeter

A Roman jug from Wroxeter
During August, we are publishing through this blog a series of new photographs taken by archaeological photographer Ian Cartwright for an online Image Gallery created with the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council. You can read more about the gallery here, and you can see the whole gallery online here.

Here is our caption for this image:

This ceramic jug dates from the Romano-British period, and is made from a fine grained black burnished ware known as Upchurch ware. The writing on the object, copied from earlier markings and labels, records the provenance of the object as Uriconium (Viroconium) – the Roman name for Wroxeter, which is now a village in modern Shropshire but was the site of the fourth largest city in Roman Britain.

Together with a contemporary label, it also records a detailed sequence of acquisition – its discovery in 1866 by ‘Mr Stannier who farmed the land’, its sale to a dealer in Shrewsbury named Mr Last, and Pitt-Rivers’ purchase of the object from Last in 1870.

(Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.37.31)

Monday, 18 August 2014

A Cast of a Palaeolithic Handaxe from Hoxne, Suffolk


A cast of a Palaeolithic handaxe from Hoxne, Suffolk
During August, we are publishing through this blog a series of new photographs taken by archaeological photographer Ian Cartwright for an online Image Gallery created with the support of the Arts and Humanities Research Council. You can read more about the gallery here, and you can see the whole gallery online here.

Here is the caption for this image:

This object appears at first glance to be a prehistoric stone implement, but is in fact a Victorian plaster cast of a Palaeolithic hand-axe. 

Written on a label attached to the object, and re-written directly onto the axe, are the words “FOUND AT HOXNE, SUFFOLK IN 1797”. This is a reference to the famous discovery of hand-axes at this location by John Frere, who published his ‘Account of Flint Weapons Discovered at Hoxne in Suffolk’ in the journal Archaeologia in the year 1800. Frere wrote of the hand-axes that 'They are, I think, evidently weapons of war, fabricated and used by a people who had not the use of metals [and are from] a very remote period indeed.' 

We know today that the original hand-axe dates from c.400,000 years age. It is held by the Society of Antiquaries, and is on long-term loan to the British Museum. The writing on the object can be cross-referenced with Pitt-Rivers’ own record in 1874 of “3 casts of implements in the British Mus” in his own collection - indicating that he acquired this cast at some point before 1874.

This object is an indication of Pitt-Rivers’ early interest in Palaeolithic archaeology, and his use of casts of museum objects for comparative purposes. You can read more about the original object on the British Museum's website here 

(Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.122.2).