Report on Designation Development Fund award for the Excavating Pitt-Rivers project

Between November 2012 and December 2013, the work of the Excavating Pitt-Rivers project was supported through an award of  £76,654 from the Designation Development Fund of Arts Council England. We have now published a Report, summarising what our team has achieved during through this award, and our plans for future work on the collections. The document is available here and the summary is provided below. 

The Excavating Pitt-Rivers project continues in 2014, building on the crucial proof-of-concept work funded through thus Arts Council England award, through further publication and public dissemination,  and further grant applications.


Through an award of £76,654 from the Designation Development Fund, the Excavating Pitt-Rivers project has enhanced the care, documentation and public understanding of the earliest archaeological collections that were acquired by General Augustus Pitt-Rivers from sites across England, and which are held at the Pitt Rivers Museum (PRM). Led by Dr Dan Hicks (Lecturer-Curator in Archaeology), the project team has documented, photographed and published to the Museum’s online database c.10,687 archaeological objects that were collected and excavated by General Pitt-Rivers from across England between c. 1864 and 1880.

Our understanding of this unique archaeological collection has been completely transformed by the project. In our application to the Designation Development Fund, we stated that “Our initial estimate is that this collection comprises c. 5,000 artefacts from more than 61 sites across at least 12 English counties”. Through a collections based approach, the number of objects recorded in the database has more than doubled to c. 10,687. The number of sites from which objects derive has risen from just 61 across 12 English counties to 267 across 32 counties. Before the project the vast majority of the objects had not been examined since their arrival in Oxford in 1884: the taking of more than 20,800 photographs of objects by the project team – now fully uploaded to the Museum’s database and website – is therefore a watershed moment. The newly enhanced documentation transforms not just our understanding, but also the future potential of the collection for research and display. It also highlights the potential of applying the highest standards of documentation to historic archaeological collections that have conventionally been treated in a more broad-brush manner.

At the same time, the project has pioneered an approach to collections-based documentation enhancement and desk-based research that is grounded in a programme of public engagement. A project blog ( has attracted more than 20,000 unique visitors over 12 months, and an additional estimated 100,000 people have been reached through an active Twitter campaign led by Pitt Rivers Museum (Twitter) and Dan Hicks (Twitter).

Seven public events have been held across the country, in Folkestone, Leeds, York, London, Lewes, Guildford and Oxford. Four visits by local archaeological societies have been hosted at the Pitt Rivers Museum, and have included talks and object handling sessions. Published outputs have ranged from a feature in British Archaeology magazine, and articles in the journals and newsletters of regional archaeological societies, to an open-access peer-reviewed paper in the distinguished American journal Current Anthropology (December 2013). The project has achieved extensive regional and national media coverage, including appearances by Dan Hicks on the BBC4 documentary Heritage! The Battle for Britain’s Past, and on Radio 4’s In Our Time.

The legacies of the project include a series of new connections across the museum and heritage sector that have already led to funding applications for new initiatives that build on the momentum built up through Excavating Pitt-Rivers, grounded in excellence, public engagement, and sustainability. The results of the project will also directly inform the re-display of the archaeological collections in the Museum’s permanent displays through the Museum’s £1.6m Heritage Lottery-supported redisplay and outreach programme VERVE (Visitors, Engagement, Renewal, Visibility, Enrichment), which runs from 2012-2017.

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