Unrolling a large watercolour of Stonehenge

images: Pitt Rivers Museum curatorial staff unrolling a large watercolour of Stonehenge for photographic documentation. This previously unknown item appears to be one of a series of visual aids made for, and used by, General Pitt-Rivers in lectures in the 1870s. Photograph by Ian Cartwright, Archaeology Imaging Unit, Institute of Archaeology, Oxford

In December 2013, the Excavating Pitt-Rivers team, in collaboration with the Institute of Archaeology and Philip Grover of the Pitt Rivers Museum, undertook a programme of photographic documentation for a selection of oversized archival material from the Pitt Rivers Museum archival collections. 

This material had been catalogued in the mid 20th century as from the collection of E.B. Tylor, and our documentation work has confirmed that a wide range of images made for use in Tylor's publications is present. However, documentary research also indicated that there may be some of General Pitt-Rivers' lecture aids amongst the items. They were accessioned by the Museum in 1944, shortly after the death of the Museum's curator Henry Balfour, and were recorded as used 'to illustrate lectures in places & at a time when lantern-slides could not be had or used'.

The process of documenting the material has led to some potentially important discoveries, including a series of seven large-format watercolours of British archaeological megalithic monuments, and a series of illustrations of firearms. Three working shots of one of these - a unique large-scale watercolour illustration of Stonehenge  - being carefully unfolded for photography by members of the museum's the curatorial team, is shown above.

Research and documentation is ongoing, but the evidence seems to indicate that these images were made for General Pitt-Rivers during the 1870s, for use by him as visual aids in  lectures (and possibly also in museum exhibits), before being transferred to the Pitt Rivers Museum. The watercolours bear some similarities to other (much smaller) images made for Pitt-Rivers by his illustrator, William Stephen Tomkin. 

These re-discovered images of archaeological monuments will be fully researched, documented and published as work continues, and updates will be posted through this blog. In the mean time, these rediscovered images are another reminder that processes of re-discovery and documentation that are akin to archaeological excavation can be undertaken within museums, as well as at more conventional archaeological sites. 

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