Archaeology Study Days 21st, 22nd August 2014

Day 1- at Salisbury Museum
by Peter Read

Sarum U3A organised the study days and 17 members from Sarum and Spire attended on the first day. The day sped by in the capable hands of Adrian Green and Jane Ellis-Schon.
This first day was split into two parts. The morning was devoted to talks about General Pitt-Rivers followed in the afternoon going behind the scenes and looking at the new Wessex Gallery.

The first surprising piece of information I learned was the General Pitt-Rivers was not his name at all. He was born as Augustus Henry Lane Fox in Yorkshire in 1827. It was not until 1880 when he was 53 did he change his name. This was because a clause in the will that allowed him to acquire his wealth and property. The property included Cranborne Chase and Rushmore House. This was most fortuitous because of the untouched archaeology on the Chase. Now with his wealth he was able to indulge in excavating all these sites such as Winkelbury Hill, Woodcuts, Rotherley, Bokerley Dyke, King John's House, South Lodge, Wor Barrow, Handley Hill and Iwerne. All these are shown in the new Wessex Gallery.

But how did General Pitt-Rivers get to this point? By 1880 he was already a well known archaeologist and this had come about from his military career. He went to Sandhurst for 6 months and was then commissioned into the Grenadier Guards and then to the Crimea. He was soon invalided home and thereafter held administrative jobs rising to Lieutenant General. The key thing about this part of his life was his interest in rifles. This provoked an interest in the history and progression of guns. In turn this led him to collect examples  from around the world together with shields and boats. He began to consider evolution of such items giving a lecture in 1875. He knew Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, Herbert Spencer and Sir John Lubbock. 

By this time General Pitt-River's collection was too big for is house and so he gave it to the South Kensington Museum. This finally was handed on to Oxford University and became the General Pitt-Rivers museum. The museum was and still is laid out by type of object and not by time or origin.

In 1867 he became an assistant to Canon William Greenwell. Greenwell taught Pitt-Rivers the essence of how to conduct a dig. A year later he was undertaking his own digs in Sussex in such places as Cissbury and other hill forts. He looked at the gravels of the Thames and this gave him the concept of layers and dating artefacts found within. No other archaeologist was doing this at the time.

By the time General Pitt-Rivers was an old man he was a revered archaeologist who had pioneered many techniques still used today. He was meticulous in his writings and he published most of his excavations in luxuriously bound volumes. The museum have these and we were able to admire them.

Later we went behind the scenes and were able to see and handle some of General Pitt-Rivers finds such as flints and bowls. The museum holds many of his finds and currently they need reassessing and cataloguing and repacking. This huge task will begin shortly and volunteers are needed for a variety of tasks. I volunteered to take photographs as needed. Jane Ellis-Schon will be leading this project.

Jane also showed us round the Wessex Gallery that she designed. I have made a gallery of pictures of selected parts; now on line.