Pitt-Rivers and Cissbury

The Excavating Pitt-Rivers team continues to work through the material from Sussex. Among the many sites excavated in East and West Sussex, Pitt-Rivers spent a considerable amount of time excavating at Cissbury - a prehistoric site near Worthing in West Sussex. He wrote numerous articles and consulted multiple specialists about the finds from the three seasons of excavations and the geology of the site. From his published work and excavated material culture, the project is starting to consider the development of his understanding of the site, and its place in the development of his archaeological approaches.

A sketched plan of Cissbury from the Pitt-Rivers papers (courtesy of Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum; Pitt Rivers Papers, P Series). 
Pitt-Rivers first identified the site's potential when he spent a month of continuous walking over the Sussex downs. Cissbury stood out due to the quantity of flint flakes that he found and the presence of large pits in the southwest corner of the camp, which he describes as being completely honeycombed. Previous excavations at the camp by George Irving, had not taken note of this abundance of flint flakes, and Pitt-Rivers proposed that the quantity of flintwork means that this site was a flint mine.

Pitt-Rivers, in his three field seasons at Cissbury (1867, 1868 and 1875), spent the majority of his time working and developing his theories regarding the flint mines he first identified in 1867. During the seven-year gap in his work excavations led by others took place; the results of which influenced the excavations he later completed in 1875.
A plan of the galleries and shafts under the ditch and rampart of Cissbury from a survey by Pitt-Rivers
(Lane Fox, 1875: PL XV)
His first excavations of the ditch in April 1875 did not produce the results that he was hoping for. He states in his article (Lane Fox, 1875: 368) that he was not willing to pay, without assistance, for future excavations and so went to the Anthropological Institute (now known as the Royal Anthropological Institute) to raise funds. In one night he was able to raise £30 (the equivalent of perhaps £3,000 today), and this funded excavations from June through to September. Whilst researching the material that the Pitt Rivers Museum holds, the team realized that the British Museum and the Ashmolean also hold material from Pitt-Rivers' excavations at Cissbury. We were kindly given access to the material at the British Museum last month, and whilst examining the material we noticed that a number of the flint tools were labelled as originally held by the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. We can perhaps infer from this that Pitt-Rivers gifted a selection of the material he excavated from Cissbury to the RAI in 1876 as a form of acknowledgement of the money donated to the excavations.
Flint scraper held at the British Museum (C.101) showing the sticker indicating it was given to the Anthropological Institute on the 13th March 1876 (Permission to use this image was kindly granted by Gillian Varndell, Curator of Neolithic Collections in the Prehistory and Europe department at the British Museum). 
The Excavating Pitt-Rivers project has now finished looking at the material, held at the Pitt Rivers Museum from Cissbury. In total the Museum holds c.200 objects from the site, of which the majority is flint implements. A number of the flint objects are flint axes whilst others are cores, flakes and natural flint nodules. Almost all of the flint objects are completely covered in white patina that is chalky in texture - Pitt-Rivers also took note of this fact in his paper. The Museum holds relatively small quantities of pottery and bone from the site. The Museum's historic documentation records a model scapula shovel that Pitt-Rivers reconstructed and tested in 1875, the location of which is currently unknown.

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