In Our Time (BBC Radio 4) - Pitt-Rivers

Image: A Romano-British Samian ware bowl from Richborough Roman Fort, Kent (PRM Accession Number 1884.37.26), photographed and documented by the Excavating Pitt-Rivers project team in February 2013.

Public engagement is a central element of the Excavating Pitt-Rivers project. This week, Dan Hicks, who leads the project, spoke about the project to archaeologists at the University of Leicester, and to the A Town Unearthed project in Folkestone, Kent - where Pitt-Rivers excavated at Castle Hill (Caesar's Camp) in June-July 1878. 

This continues next week, when on 28 February Dan will be in discussion with Adam KuperRichard Bradley and Melvyn Bragg on BBC Radio 4's In Our Time programme. More details on the broadcast are here - 

Image: Base of the Romano-British Samian ware bowl from Richborough Roman Fort, Kent (PRM Accession Number 1884.37.26).

Meanwhile, the documentation process continues: we are finalising our reports on Pitt-Rivers' excavations in Yorkshire, Kent and Surrey, and Judy and Carlotta are starting to open the boxes for the many ceramic sherds excavated by the General from sites in Sussex. The reports, and the updates on our documentation process, will be posted here in the coming weeks.

Two objects from Kent

The Excavating Pitt-Rivers project is continuing to work through the Kent material, photographing and documenting the objects excavated by the General in the county. Here are two of the more unusual examples of the many archaeological objects excavated from Kent by General Pitt-Rivers that our team is documenting.

This unusually shaped natural flint (PRM 1884.140.1308) is covered in a black deposit.  It was excavated in 1868 from a pit located between St. Peter's and Reading Street on the Isle of Thanet.

This chalk object (PRM 1884.138.13) was excavated at Caesar’s Camp in 1878.  Pitt-Rivers described the object as a “Fragment of dish or mould, in chalk, with a hole bored from both sides; found in an oblong pit at the foot of the interior slope of Upper Rampart, June 8th (1882:464).” 

Below is an illustration of the chalk fragment, from Pitt-Rivers' report on the Caesar's Camp excavations, published in 1882.


Pitt-Rivers, A. H. L. F. 1882. Excavations at Caesar's Camp near Folkestone, conducted in June and July 1878. Archaeologia 47(2): 429-465.

Pitt-Rivers in the Isle of Thanet

Image: Photograph (2013) and illustration (1869) of the flints excavated and collected from the Isle of Thanet (Kent, England) by General Pitt-Rivers.
The Excavating Pitt-Rivers team is currently working on the material that the General collected and excavated during his time in Kent. Whilst looking at material from the Isle of Thanet we found a number of lithics, previously unrecorded, that match illustrations in one of Lane Foxs earliest publications (Lane-Fox 1869), as shown in the photograph above, which is reproduced alongside the 1869 illustration.

In this 1869 publication, he described his ‘examination’ of the Isle of Thanet. Pitt-Rivers explored an area stretching from ‘a mile north of Margate to Broadstairs and Ramsgate, and to a distance of a mile or two inland from those places’. The paper described his methods of identifying ancient flints:
there is no real difficulty in detecting the ancient from the modern flakes; dark flakes with a dull surface must be rejected as modern, those of ancient date are of a light blue colour on their fractured surfaces.” (Lane-Fox 1869: 6-7)
The paper also discussed the sourcing of raw materials and the importance of understanding this. He compared his finds of flint objects in Oxfordshire to those found on the Isle of Thanet, contrasting the lack of available flint sources in Oxfordshire with their relative abundance in Kent.
Keep an eye out in the upcoming weeks for more exciting finds from Kent, as our documentation process continues.

Lane-Fox, A. 1869. 'On some flint implements found associated with Roman remains in Oxfordshire and the Isle of Thanet.' Journal of the Ethnological Society of London (1869-1870), 1.1: 1-12.

Pitt-Rivers in Surrey

Carlotta and Judy, from the Excavating Pitt-Rivers project team, working on the ceramic urns from Whitmore Common, Surrey.

The work on the material that General Pitt-Rivers acquired from Surrey has been completed.  We originally believed there to be 245 objects from this county but whilst working through the collections we came across many more and the total now stands at 487!

Surrey has been an interesting county to work on.  Not only because General Pitt-Rivers resided in Guildford between 1873 to 1877 whilst commanding the West Surrey Brigade Depot (Thompson 1977: 37), but also for revealing some of the diversity of his methods for obtaining objects.

Pitt-Rivers acquired some of this material from barrow-digging: he conducted excavations of a number of tumuli in Surrey. During his excavations of tumuli at Whitmore Common, he recovered five Bronze Age urns [PRM Accession Numbers 1884.35.33-37], while artefacts recovered during excavations at Merrow Down included an Anglo-Saxon knife [1884.121.11].  

Whilst these excavations were planned, others were purely accidental, and closer to an early form of rescue archaeology.  For example, the discovery of an assemblage of Iron Age pottery from St. Marthas Hill, as indicated by the label below.

The label, probably in the General's hand, found with the urn sherds from St Martha's Hill, indicating their accidental discovery during tree planting.

However, the General's field-walking accounted for the majority of finds.  Around 300 worked flints, labelled 'surface' ('S'), derive from find-spots within walking distance of the Generals residence at Uplands in Guildford, where he lived between 1874 and 1878.

Other items from the country were not excavated by the General himself. These include the hinge of an iron flail [1884.12.30] 'dug up at Reigate' and obtained by Pitt-Rivers in 1877 from the collection of Ambrose Glover, and a Romano-British bronze figurine [1884.67.72], reportedly discovered in the River Thames at Chertsey, which is recorded as purchased from 'Williamson'.

This work on Surrey will result in the production of a report, which will be available in the next few weeks.  Next countyKent!


Thompson, M.W. 1977. General Pitt-Rivers: Evolution and archaeology in the nineteenth century. Bradford-on-Avon: Moonraker Press.