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)

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