Visit date: 14th April 2013

Weather: Cold and rainy. Visibility poor, ground very wet underfoot.

Introduction

The field trip began by considering the type of landscape we could see, and the various features visible on the hills around. These hills are formed of granite intrusions through older sedimentary rocks and provides a good source of building material over most of the uplands of Dartmoor (Newman 2011: 3).

 

Figure 1: The landscape of Dartmoor, with evidence for the mining history of the area visible on the hills.

Figure 1: The landscape of Dartmoor, with evidence for the mining history of the area visible on the hills.

 

The first stop was to climb the hill up to Grimspound, and then on to Round Pound at Kestor. A planned visit to a nearby stone row was cancelled owing to the onset of heavy rain, and the need to push the cars out of a boggy carpark!

Dartmoor has been considered inhospitable, inaccessible and undesirable to visit for most of the historic period, and as a result, the archaeological remains visible are in a remarkable state of preservation. There has been a lack of intensive farming but also a continuity of agricultural practice that has meant that later land uses have not tended to destroy evidence for previous use. A notable exception is the robbing of stone to create new boundaries and buildings (Newman 2011:11).

Grimspound

Grid Reference:  SX 7006 8088

Figure 2: 3D terrain model of the area around Grimspound. Source: http://www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/images/Grimspound8.gif

Figure 2: 3D terrain model of the area around Grimspound. Source: http://www.legendarydartmoor.co.uk/images/Grimspound8.gif

Site Overview

 

Figure 3: Grimspound, Dartmoor, Devon. Middle Bronze Age enclosure and hut enclosures. Source (McOmish 2011: Fig.1)

Figure 3: Grimspound, Dartmoor, Devon. Middle Bronze Age enclosure and hut enclosures. Source (McOmish 2011: Fig.1)

Grimspound is a 1.54ha stone enclosure, constructed from the local granite of Dartmoor and enclosing the remains of 24 hut circles and features interpreted as pens in the side of the enclosure (Devon HER MDV8778) shown in Figure 4. It is situated, as shown in the 3D terrain model in Figure 2, in a valley between two prominent hills: Hookney Tor and Hameldon Tor, which although Grimspound is at a height of about 460m (NMR SX 78 SW 11), considerably overlook the site, with the entrance to the enclosure facing upslope towards Hameldon Tor.

Although there are three gaps in the enclosure wall (as shown in Figure 4 below), those labelled ‘eastern breach’ and ‘western breach’ appear to be as a result of a later trackway passing through the site. Only the ‘SE entrance’ appears to be original, although there is a suspicion that this may have been ‘enhanced’ as a result of the Dartmoor Exploration Committee’s efforts (Newman 2011:67).

 

Figure 4: Earthwork plan of Grimspound, an enclosed hut settlement. EH 1:500 survey. Source: (Newman 2011: Fig.3.7)

Figure 4: Earthwork plan of Grimspound, an enclosed hut settlement. EH 1:500 survey. Source: (Newman 2011: Fig.3.7)

The huts are not evenly distributed within the enclosure, as can be seen in Figure 5, and to the north, a winterbourne, the Grim’s Lake (Fox 1957 :158), flows through the enclosure as shown in Figure 5 below.

 

Figure 5: Grimspound, Manaton. Source: Fox 1957 Fig.10

Figure 5: Grimspound, Manaton. Source: Fox 1957 Fig.10

 

Investigation History


Year
Investigation type Investigation Details
1829 Survey Accurate survey by A. C. Shillibeer of Grimspound, showing the entire enclosure (McOmish 2011 :2; Devon HER MDV8778).
1894-1895 Excavation Grimspound was excavated and described by the Dartmoor Exploration Committee. They reckoned that Grimspound was in good condition for assessing owing to there not being any new walls nearby that would have robbed it of stone (Baring Gould et al. 1894:101). Owing to this assumption that all the stone remained onsite and in close proximity to its original position, the DEC experimented with reconstructing the huts to establish the original height of the walls, and therefore hazard a guess at the construction of the rest of the hut. They established that with the stone available, the walls would have reached no further than the current height of the door frames, and that the upper part of the hut was probably therefore constructed of turf or rushes on poles (Baring Gould et al. 1894:108).Finds from the excavations include oak and ash charcoal, flints (not native to the area), but no pottery or metal items (Devon HER MDV8778). Inside the huts was found a ‘dais’ arrangement adjacent to the wall, interpreted as sleeping and sitting facilities, hearths and ‘cooking holes’ in the floor of the hut. Also noted were the L-shaped porch arrangements provided to many of the huts, affording protection against the weather.

Chronology and Current Interpretation

 

Figure 6: A hut circle at Grimspound, April 2013. Copyright author.

Figure 6: A hut circle at Grimspound, April 2013. Copyright author.

 

A personal comment by Grinsell in 1977, recorded on the Devon HER for Grimspound suggests that of the 24 circular huts, only 16 of these were dwellings (based on the presence of hearths) and the rest were storage huts (without hearths) (Devon HER MDV8778). Grimspound is interpreted as being to do with Bronze Age settlement and farming, and similar enclosures are often tied into the Reave system that partitions Dartmoor (Davies 2010 :62). Davies also suggests that the positioning of these enclosures in the landscape is not intentionally defensive, in contrast with the Tors that are also found on the granite uplands.

It might be that the enclosure and the hut circles were not constructed at the same time, as excavations at Shaugh Moor showed that the huts predated the enclosure by about 100 years (Newman 2011 :67). The houses are small, only 2.4-3.5m in diameter, leading to the suggestion that they were not intended for permanent occupation and that Grimspound represents a seasonal site for livestock farmers, or possibly associated also with tin workings nearby (Devon HER MDV8778).


Round Pound, Kestor

Grid Reference:  SX 66388685

Site Overview

The area around Round Pound is visually dominated by the granite outcrop of Kestor. The archaeological remains consist of a series of what Curwen (1927 :283) described as ‘the most elaborate and finished set of such rectangular fields’, and several hut circles, of which we visited that within Round Pound. Round Pound is an enclosure of 0.07ha on a north-west-facing slope on Chagford Common. Within this enclosure is a large hut with walls, like the pound itself, up to 2 metres thick (NMR SX 68 NE 14).

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Figure 7: Aerial view of the large hut circle at Kestor, excavated by Fox in the 1950s. (NMR 24093/011). Source Newman 2011 Fig.4.2

Figure 7: Aerial view of the large hut circle at Kestor, excavated by Fox in the 1950s. (NMR 24093/011). Source Newman 2011 Fig.4.2

Figure 8: Plan of huts and field system at Kestor, Chagford, Devon. The earlier fields are stippled. Based on E. C. Curwen and R Gurd. Source: Fox 1954 Fig.4

Figure 8: Plan of huts and field system at Kestor, Chagford, Devon. The earlier fields are stippled. Based on E. C. Curwen and R Gurd. Source: Fox 1954 Fig.4


Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
1951-2 Excavation Aileen Fox excavated some of the hut circles at Kestor, including Round Pound. She found Iron Age pottery, and evidence for Iron smelting inside the hut itself. This led to the assumption that the site was Iron Age, and that the associated field system was analogous to the ‘Celtic Fields’ known elsewhere in the country (Newman 2011:85).

The huts in the settlement were so large that posts would have been required to hold up a roof of that size, and postholes were indeed found and a suggested reconstruction is shown in Figure 9.

 

Figure 9: A suggested reconstruction of one of the huts of the settlement. Source Fox 1954: Fig.5

Figure 9: A suggested reconstruction of one of the huts of the settlement. Source Fox 1954: Fig.5

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The settlement of Kestor probably dates from the fourth or fifth century BC (Cunliffe 2005 :277). It consists of twenty-seven stone roundhouses amongst a field system bounded with granite stone walls (Henderson 2007 :219).

The fields around it had been reclaimed from the blanket peat that had already begun to form by this date and it seems likely that the uplands of Dartmoor had already been abandoned by the time the settlement at Kestor was in use, owing to a deterioration of the climate during the Later Bronze Age (Fox 1957 :129).

Newman (2011:85) argues though, that more recent interpretations of Kestor place its origins, along with the Reaves, in the Bronze Age but with later occupation in the Later Bronze Age and possibly into the Iron Age.

Fox’s interpretation of the large hut in Round Pound is shown below in Figure 11, and this shows the metalworking to be occurring while the hut was in occupation. However, the evidence for iron smelting is considered to be unrelated to the occupation partly due to the lack of dating evidence, but also because the practicalities of ironworking in an enclosed space like a hut would be problematical and that it was more likely to have occurred in a derelict shell of a building rather than the main occupation phase (Newman 2011:85).

 

Figure 10: Diagram plan of the metalworker’s hut in Round Pound, Kestor. Source: Fox 1954:Fig.6

Figure 10: Diagram plan of the metalworker’s hut in Round Pound, Kestor. Source: Fox 1954:Fig.6

The radial walls that are apparent within the pound (shown in Figure 11) mostly likely result from a later, medieval, use of the enclosure for containing stock (NMR SX 68 NE 14)

 

Figure 11: The Round Pound at Kestor, Devon (after Fox 1955). Source: Henderson 2007: Fig.6.10

Figure 11: The Round Pound at Kestor, Devon (after Fox 1955). Source: Henderson 2007: Fig.6.10

Bibliography

Baring Gould, S. et al., 1894. The Exploration of Grimspound: First report of the Dartmoor Exploration Committee. Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science , Literature and Art, 26, pp.101–121.

Cunliffe, B., 2005. Iron Age Communities in Britain: An account of England, Scotland and Wales from the Seventh Century BC until the Roman Conquest 4th Editio., Abingdon: Routledge.

Curwen, E., 1927. Prehistoric agriculture in Britain. Antiquity, 1(3), pp.261–289. Available at: http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/ant/001/Ant0010261.htm [Accessed May 18, 2013].

Davies, S.R., 2010. The Early Neolithic Tor Enclosures of Southwest Britain. Unpub’d PhD Thesis. University of Birmingham.

Fox, A., 1954. Celtic fields and farms on Dartmoor, in the light of recent excavations at Kestor. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 20, pp.87–102.

Fox, A., 1957. The Prehistoric Monuments of Dartmoor. The Archaeological Journal, 114, pp.152–159.

Henderson, J.C., 2007. The Atlantic Iron Age: Settlement and Identity in the First Millennium BC Reprint ed., Routledge.

McOmish, D., 2011. Introductions to Heritage Assets: Enclosed Prehistoric Settlements, Swindon: English Heritage.

Newman, P., 2011. The Field Archaeology of Dartmoor, Swindon: English Heritage.

 

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Written on April 14th, 2013 , Diploma Year One Tags: ,

Visit date: 10th March 2013

Weather: Clear but very cold.

Introduction

The field trip started at Salisbury Museum in the morning, where we were shown a variety of artefacts dating from the Paleolithic to the Bronze Age, including the Bronze Age hoard found near Tisbury in Wiltshire.

 

Figure 1: Late Bronze Age barb-and-tang arrowhead in Salisbury Museum Archives, March 2013. Source: Author.

Figure 1: Late Bronze Age barb-and-tang arrowhead in Salisbury Museum Archives, March 2013. Source: Author.

 

Figure 2: Bronze Age axes of various types from the Wardour Hoard. Source: Author.

Figure 2: Bronze Age axes of various types from the Wardour Hoard. Source: Author.

Woodhenge

Grid Reference:  SU 1508 4337

Site Overview

Woodhenge today presents as a series of concentric rings of concrete bollards, marking the previous positions of what have been interpreted as wooden posts of varying widths. The diameter of the henge is 85m, with a 6m wide ditch 2.4m deep. There is a narrow berm separating the bank and the ditch (NMR SU 14 SE 6).

(For an excellent Kite Aerial Photograph used in my original report, please visit  http://www.flickr.com/photos/hamishfenton/7482293720/ )

Noted by Colt Hoare as a burial monument, the site of Woodhenge was first recognised as something unusual when it appeared on aerial photography (Figure 3) (NMR SU 14 SE 6).

 

Figure 3: Cropmark traces of ‘Woodhenge’ and associated sites, photographed by Squadron Leader Gilbert Insall, VC in the summer of 1926. NMR CCC 8751/7387 30-June-1926. © English Heritage (NMR) Crawford Collection.

Figure 3: Cropmark traces of ‘Woodhenge’ and associated sites, photographed by Squadron Leader Gilbert Insall, VC in the summer of 1926. NMR CCC 8751/7387 30-June-1926. © English Heritage (NMR) Crawford Collection.

Investigation History


Year
Investigation type Investigation Details
19th Century Recorded Colt Hoare records the site as a large disc barrow, and it is known as such until 1925 (NMR SU 14 SE 6).
1926 Reclassification Aerial photography shows cropmark of Woodhenge (Figure 3)
1926-8 Excavation Maud and Ben Cunnington first excavated the southern half of this monument, uncovering what they interpreted to be six concentric rings of posts, with an encircling ditch described as being ‘unexpectedly large’ (Cunnington 1927 :93).Near the centre of the monument, the burial of a child was found, with another burial located beneath the bottom of the ditch, in a grave cut into it. The burial was dated by the presence of a Beaker, crushed into fragments (Cunnington 1929:42). The Cunningtons also established that the raised area in the centre of the mound was the original level of the ground, and that the ground surface had been removed from the rest of the monument (Cunnington 1927 :95), perhaps as part of the preparation of the area.
Cunnington also found that the timbers were later replaced with a stone setting, of which she found two stone-holes (Wilts SMR SU14SE101). Distinctive Grooved Ware pottery, similar to that found at Durrington Walls (see below) was found (Wainwright 1967 :169).
1970 Excavation Further excavations, by Geoff Wainright, providing dating evidence from material from the ditch, giving a determination of 1867 bc ±74 (BM-677) and 1805 bc ±54 (BM-678) (NMR SU 14 SE 6).
2004 Geophysical survey This located the northern terminals of the henge ditch, representing the entranceway of the monument (Wilts SMR SU14SE101).
2005-6 Excavation A re-excavation of Maud Cunnington’s work by the Stonehenge Riverside Project found a further three stone-holes, forming a ‘cove’ arrangement (Wilts SMR SU14SE101).
Figure 4: Plan of excavated features (after Cunnington 1929;Evans &Wainwright 1979). Source: Pollard 1995 Fig.2

Figure 4: Plan of excavated features (after Cunnington 1929;Evans &Wainwright 1979). Source: Pollard 1995 Fig.2

 

Chronology and Current Interpretation

Environmental evidence from Wainwright’s excavations in 1970 showed that before the monument was constructed, the area was long-established grassland (Wilts SMR SU14SE101). Nevertheless, under the bank was found a tree-throw pit, into which was deposited Carinated Bowl pottery, dating to the early Neolithic, about 4000-3800 BC (Wilts SMR SU14SE101).

As discovered by Cunnington, the timber circle was eventually replaced with a stone ‘cove’ arrangement, and later excavations showed that this had multiple phases: the first being an arc of small stones facing west, which was then replaced by two larger stones (Wilts SMR SU14SE101). Finds of Romano-British pottery above the ditch were interpreted by Cunnington to mean that the site was first cultivated in this period (Wilts SMR SU14SE319).

Pollard (1995) argues that the pattern of artefacts discovered at the various excavations is evidence for structured deposition at the monument, with deposits in the pre-monument pits and also deposits in the ditch occurring almost as soon as it had been constructed. The spatial arrangement of the deposits would also appear to be of significance (as shown in Figure 8) with different offerings in different sectors of the monument. Pollard suggests that the area that later was used for the monument already held significance and the monument was a formalisation of this.

 

Figure 5: Spatial organisation of deposition. Source: Pollard 1995:Fig.12

Figure 5: Spatial organisation of deposition. Source: Pollard 1995:Fig.12

The burials are interpreted as being a secondary usage of the monument, rather than its focus (Barrett 1994 :65). Instead there is a suggestion that the alignment of the entrance shares an axis with Stonehenge, but also aligns with a latterly-blocked entrance at nearby Durrington Walls, suggesting a relationship between the two monuments (Pearson et al. 2006 :234).


Durrington Walls

Grid Reference:  SU 1503 4373 (centre)

Site Overview

Durrington Walls is a large Class II henge (had two opposing entrances) by the side of the River Avon in the parish of Durrington, Wiltshire. It has been considerably damaged by plough action, and the buildup of soil from ploughing obscures some of what is left (Wainwright 1967).

 

Figure 6: Durrington Walls, plan of henge. Source: Wainwright 1967: Place XXVI

Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
1812 Recorded Recorded by Colt Hoare (Wainwright 1967)
1918 Account published As a result of a drainage trench being cut through the monument, Mr Farrer published an account of what could be seen of the bank, demonstrating that it was mostly obscured by a lynchet. Pottery identified by Maud Cunnington as part of a Beaker was found on an old land surface below the bank, along with burnt bone, flint and charcoal (Wainwright 1967).
1966-1968 Excavation Work ahead of the construction of the A345 road unearthed two circular timber multiphase structures, with associated finds of grooved ware. These are known as the North and South Circles, with the South Circle having at least two phases (Figure 7). Dating evidence dates of 2050 ±90 to 180±148 bc (Wilts SMR SU14SE100)
2005-2006 Excavation The Stonehenge Riverside Project carried out excavations at Durrington Walls, and re-excavated the South Circle and areas within and without the bank of the henge. They discovered the Durrington Avenue, leading from the henge down to the River Avon, and also what have been interpreted as the remains of Neolithic houses, post-dated by pits containing Grooved Ware dated to 2500-2400BC (Mike Parker Pearson et al. 2006).
Figure 7: Phases 1 and 2 of Durrington Walls Southern Circle. (After Wainwright & Longworth). Source: Gibson 2005: Fig.48

Figure 7: Phases 1 and 2 of Durrington Walls Southern Circle. (After Wainwright & Longworth). Source: Gibson 2005: Fig.48

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The excavations in 2005 produced evidence of middens below the bank, interpreted as being evidence for gatherings and occupation at the site before the henge itself was constructed (Mike Parker Pearson et al. 2006). Structures interpreted as houses found beneath this midden layer were interpreted as being contemporary with each other and has been suggested as the possible settlement of the builders of Stonehenge (Pearson & Larsson 2007:140-2).

 

Figure 8: Radiocarbon dates for the timber circles at Durrington Walls. Source: Gibson 2005 fig.28

Figure 8: Radiocarbon dates for the timber circles at Durrington Walls. Source: Gibson 2005 fig.28

It is suggested by Parker Pearson et al. (2006) that Durrington walls was part of a landscape used to facilitate and commemorate passage from life to death: the living celebrate the recently-dead by feasting and by erecting a wooden post, perhaps for a kin group. The dead are given to the River Avon via the avenue that leads from Durrington Walls to the Avon, and make their spiritual transition down the River, to wend their way to the Stonehenge Avenue, and pass along this to the place of the eternal ancestors: Stonehenge. The idea of wooden structures as part of the world of the living, and stone being of permanence and ancestral dead is based in part on ethnographic work in Madagascar where this suggested structuralist duality was immediately recognisable to Ramilisonina  as being part of the understanding of the world there (Michael Parker Pearson & Ramilisonina 1998b; Michael Parker Pearson & Ramilisonina 1998a).

The solsticial alignments of both Stonehenge and Durrington walls, being opposite, is given as additional evidence for the two monuments being part of a coherent ‘system’, with the journey to Stonehenge via the Avenue being aligned on the Midwinter Sunset, and the passage from the timber circle of Durrington Walls via the associated Avenue faces the Midsummer Sunrise (Parker Pearson et al. 2006 :239). They argue further that the association between death and midwinter, sunsets and general lack of light/darkness suggests that this point is the ideal point of the year for rituals involving death (Parker Pearson et al. 2006 :243). Whether this purported association between darkness and death is applicable to the Neolithic is difficult to assess, but arguably lends consistency to the overall theory regarding the oppositions of life:death, sunrise:sunset, to:from water.

Bibliography

Barrett, J.C., 1994. Fragments from Antiquity: Archaeology of Social Life in Britain, 2900-1200 BC, Wiley-Blackwell.

Cunnington, M.E., 1927. Prehistoric Timber Circles. Antiquity, 1(1), pp.92–95. Available at: http://antiquity.ac.uk/ant/001/Ant0010092.htm [Accessed January 22, 2011].

Cunnington, M.E., 1929. Woodhenge. A description of the Site as revealed by Excavation carried out there by Mr & Mrs B. H. Cunnington, 1926-7-8, Devizes: George Simpson & Co., Devizes, Ltd.

Gibson, A.M., 2005. Stonehenge and Timber Circles 2Rev Ed ed., The History Press LTD.

Parker Pearson, Michael et al., 2006. Materializing Stonehenge: The Stonehenge Riverside Project and New Discoveries. Journal of Material Culture, 11(1-2), pp.227–261. Available at: http://mcu.sagepub.com/cgi/content/abstract/11/1-2/227 [Accessed December 27, 2010].

Parker Pearson, Michael & Ramilisonina, 1998a. Stonehenge for the ancestors: part two. Antiquity, 72(278), pp.855–856. Available at: http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/Ant/072/0855/Ant0720855.pdf [Accessed March 4, 2012].

Parker Pearson, Michael & Ramilisonina, 1998b. Stonehenge for the ancestors: the stones pass on the message. Antiquity, 72(276), pp.308–326. Available at: http://www.antiquity.ac.uk/ant/072/Ant0720308.htm [Accessed November 5, 2010].

Parker Pearson, Mike et al., 2006. A New Avenue at Durrington Walls. PAST: the newsletter of the Prehistoric Society, 52, pp.1–2.

Pearson, M.P. & Larsson, M., 2007. The Stonehenge Riverside Project: excavations at the east entrance of Durrington Walls. In Matt Larsson & Mike Parker Pearson, eds. From Stonehenge to the Baltic : living with cultural diversity in the third millennium BC. Oxford: BAR international series. S1692, pp. 125–144.

Pollard, Joshua, 1995. Structured deposition at Woodhenge. Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society, 61, pp.137–156.

Wainwright, G.J., 1967. The Excavation of the Henge Monument at Durrington Walls, Wiltshire, 1966. The Antiquaries Journal, 47(02), pp.167–184. Available at: http://www.journals.cambridge.org/abstract_S0003581500013834.

 

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Written on March 10th, 2013 , Diploma Year One Tags: , ,

Visit date: 10th February 2013

Weather: Driving rain and hail at Crickley Hill, torrential rain at Belas Knap and then a blizzard at the Rollright Stones to finish the day.  Therefore not the optimum weather for field observations or photography!

Introduction

The field trip started at Crickley Hill and took in both the causewayed enclosure and the Iron Age ramparts. From there, we drove to Belas Knap Long Barrow, a stop at Stow on the Wold to dry out and warm up in a teashop, and then on to the Rollright Stones where we saw the stone circle and the supposed barrow in the field opposite, but did not have the will to visit the other monuments in that landscape owing to the blizzard that descended.

Belas Knap Long Barrow

Grid Reference:  SP 02110 25425

Site Overview

(for an excellent Kite Aerial Photograph, which I used in my original report, please visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/hamishfenton/6876149324/)

The barrow is sited on Humblebee How, near the parish boundary, and lies perpendicular to the contours that drop sharply away to the east, being aligned roughly north-south. It is approximately 55 metres long and trapezoidal in shape, and belongs to the class of long mounds known as the ‘Cotswold-Severn’ style of barrow, owing the geographical distribution of this group and is classified by Darvill (1982:6) as a ‘Lateral entranced tomb’.

 

Figure 1: Belas Knap Long Barrow from the west, March 2011. Source: Author.

Figure 1: Belas Knap Long Barrow from the west, March 2011. Source: K Bragg.

As can be seen from Figure 1, the top of the hill is reasonably flat (the sharp drop is the far side of the barrow, here). The current appearance of the long barrow is as a result of restorative work undertaken by the Office of Works in 1929 to amend the deleterious effects of previous excavations (NMR SP 02 NW 9) shown in Figure 2.

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Figure 2: The 1929 excavations. Source: Berry 1929: Fig.5. Photo by Messrs Martyn 28th July 1929.

Figure 2: The 1929 excavations. Source: Berry 1929: Fig.5. Photo by Messrs Martyn 28th July 1929.

Investigation History

 

Figure 3: The lettering of the chambers corresponds to the old published plans. Source: Hemp 1929 :Plate 2

Figure 3: The lettering of the chambers corresponds to the old published plans. Source: Hemp 1929 :Plate 2


Year
Investigation type Investigation Details
1863-5 Excavations Reports of ‘extensive excavations’ by Mr L Winterbotham, Mr Chamberlayne and others were published by Dr Thurnam and by Mr Winterbotham himself (Berry 1929 :273). These excavations are described in the NMR entry as of being “by methods not in advance of its time” (NMR SP 02 NW 9).A chamber was located at the south-east end of the mound and four partial skeleton, including two skulls, were found. Their attention then turned to the northern end of the mound, where they discovered the false entrance, ‘forecourt’ area and some enigmatic human remains by the lintel (Parsons 2002). These consisted of parts of skulls, one of which was a round-headed skull of the kind normally associated with much later Beaker burials (NMR SP 02 NW 9) and the bones of children and infants, associated with a bone pin and another bone implement (Bird 1865: lxvi). A local man, Charles Yiend recorded that before these excavations, the space between the hornworks (shown in Figure 4) at the north end was entirely blocked with stones, and the false entrance was not visible (Hemp 1929 :261-2).It is likely that at least one of the skeletons was articulated at burial, owing to a description of a skull found in chamber C (shown on Figure 3) as appearing as though the head was propped up using the hand of the corpse (Thomas 1988 :547).
19th Century Restoration Mentioned here as Hemp (1929 :261) expressed concern that the work undertaken to restore the drystone walling may have resulted in discoveries unknown and unrecorded, as well as blurring the boundary between original stonework and 19th Century conservation efforts.
1929-1930 Excavation Excavations by the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society took advantage of the desire of the Office of Works to reconstruct the barrow, taking the opportunity to re-examine the already-opened chambers and to search for any further chambers in the expanse of barrow where there may have been room for more chambers. Further chambers were not found, but interestingly the excavators found evidence which may show that some time around the Roman period, the barrow was altered to add a layer of oolitic small stones, and potentially also to cover the original stone roofing with further material (Berry 1929).

 

Figure 4: Belas Knap: the false entrance c 1864. Source: Hemp 1929: fig.1

Figure 4: Belas Knap: the false entrance c 1864. Source: Hemp 1929: fig.1

Chronology and Current Interpretation

Dating evidence obtained by Rick Schulting, gave a date of approximately 4000 to 3700 BC which fits with dates from other Cotwold-Severn tombs in the region (NMR SP 02 NW 9), although Thomas (1988 :542) pointed out that dates obtained from material inside these structures may not share the date of origin of the structure itself, especially as concerns skeletal material.

Neolithic chambered tombs such as Belas Knap are usually interpreted as being the communal grave for a community or kinship group, but with the suggestion that this was not intended as final resting place in all cases. It seems likely that bodies were allowed to become defleshed and then the resulting bones interred, but also removed and redistributed. Thomas draws a distinction between transepted Cotswold-Severn tombs and the lateral-chambered examples, such as Belas Knap, where the lateral-chambered tombs have bones removed again from the chambers (Thomas 1988), possibly accounting for the few remains found. This process was considered risky and required segregating from the world of the living, hence the location of these barrows in liminal places, safely apart (Thomas 1988 :551). Thomas goes on to suggest that this liminality allowed other risky actions to take place, such as exchange between communities.

Fleming (1973) argues that these monuments are more than just places for dealing with the practicalities of corpses: the elaborate ‘forecourt’ arrangements such as has been uncovered at Belas Knap speak to an arena and focus for ritual activities to take place. This is more about the activities of the living, than the dead.

 

Rollright Stones

Grid Reference:  SP 2960 3087 (Kings men stone circle), SP2994 3084 (Whispering Knights), SP 2963 3095 (Kings Stone)

Map

 

Figure 5: 'The King's Men' stone circle in a blizzard, February 2013. Source: K Bragg.

Figure 5: ‘The King’s Men’ stone circle in a blizzard, February 2013. Source: K Bragg.

Site Overview

The site of the Rollright Stones is on the border between Oxfordshire and Warwickshire, which runs down the ‘Cotswold Ridgeway’ following the line of the modern road.

The Rollright Stones are actually three separate megalithic monuments: a portal dolmen known as the Whispering Knights; the King Stone, a monolith; and the King’s Men, a stone circle (Figure 5) (Lambrick 1988 :1). The area around has been a focus for activity with Lambrick listing ten archaeological sites:

“1. Roman Settlement; 2. Megalithic Barrow; 3. Round Barrow; 4. Round Cairn; 5. Ring Ditch; 6. Iron Age Cemetery; 7. Saxon Cemetery; 8. Iron Age Trackway; 9. Iron Age Ditch; 10. Pair of Ring Ditches” Lambrick 1988: 1 (punctuation of list, mine).

 Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
Late 17th C Excavation Excavation by Ralph Sheldon, but no records were left of what was discovered (Lambrick 1988 :1).
1882 Restoration Using various antiquarian drawings of the King’s Men, and records from the time, Lambrick was able to show that many stones have been restored from where they had fallen or been removed, so the present state of the circle is not necessarily accurate (Lambrick 1988 :35).
1926 Excavation Excavation of the mound adjacent to the King’s Stone provided no evidence for it being a long barrow as was previously suspected, and therefore it looks likely that the feature is entirely natural (Grinsell 1977 :5).
1970 Excavation The laying of a pipe trench to the north of the King’s Men provided an opportunity to investigate any below-ground remains, but this showed little more than periglacial features, and an undated pit (Lambrick 1988 :24)
1983 Excavation A trial excavation at the Whispering Knights was undertaken to establish whether, as the antiquarians had suggested, there was a mound beneath the megalithic remains and whether it would be possible to establish with any certainty whether the Whispering Knights was a Portal Dolmen, or was the end chamber of a ‘terminally-chambered cairn’ (Lambrick 1988 :28).This led to the conclusion that Portal Dolmen was the most likely interpretation, owing to the lack of quarries to form ditches or a mound as might be expected at a long barrow. No direct dating evidence was found but Neolithic and Beaker pottery was discovered in a ditch nearby, and a Mid-Neolithic date seems likely (Lambrick 1988 :32-34).
1986 Excavation A trench was put across the stone circle to facilitate the removal and restoration of the broken stone 61 (Lambrick 1988 :1). The stones were found to be set into a low bank, which had been enhanced on at least two occasions including during the Romano-British period. Evidence was found that the stone circle was intended to be of touching stones, to form a solid, smooth wall, with the circular shape being defined by the inner faces of the stones, which have been noted as being smoother than the outer (Lambrick 1988:41-46).

 

Chronology and Current Interpretation

The Rollright Stones have not been dated directly by any evidence found by excavation, so any chronology is based on the dates that would be expected for such monuments, rather than evidence (NMR SP 23 SE 14). The earliest monument in the landscape would appear to be the Whispering Knights as this is interpreted as being a Portal Dolmen and may be important in the development of the Cotswold-Severn tradition of megalithic chambered tombs, with the false entrance of Belas Knap an echo of the front of portal dolmens (Lambrick 1988 :25). An aerial photograph showed a pair of parallel ditches to the north-west of the Whispering Knights, previously interpreted as a cursus, but this interpretation has been rejected (Lambrick 1988 :25).

The King’s Men is compared by Burl to the Cumbrian stone circles, and this transmission of ideas he claims is related to the trade in stone axes to north Wiltshire and Oxfordshire, where the majority originate in the Langdales (Burl 1993 :41). He draws a contrast between the size of area enclosed within the circle, and the narrowness of the apparent entranceway and suggests this has a ritual, processional purpose (Burl 1993 :39). This suggestion of the entrance being of importance is reinforced by the enhanced size of the stones directly opposite to the entrance (Lambrick 1988 :42), and the ritual purpose of the circle possibly suggested by the evidence that the ground surface had been deliberately pared back to the bedrock to form a hard, cobbled surface (Lambrick 1988 :47). The evidence for Roman remodelling of the bank beneath the stones may suggest a Roman reuse of the site as a small arena, possibly for activities involving animal-baiting, for which a circle of touching stones, would form a suitable site (Lambrick 1988 :47).

Bibliography

Berry, J., 1929. Belas Knap Long Barrow, Gloucestershire: report of the excavations of 1929. Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 51, pp.273–303.

Bird, H., 1865. An Account of the Human Bones Found in the Round and Long Tumuli, Situated on the Cotswold Hills, near Cheltenham. Journal of the Anthropological Society of London, 3, pp.lxv–lxxiv. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3025307.

Burl, A., 1993. From Carnac to Callanish, Yale University Press.

Darvill, T.C., 1982. Megalithic Chambered Tombs of the Cotswold-Severn Region (Vorda research series), Highworth: Vorda Archaeological.

Fleming, A., 1973. Tombs for the Living. Man, 8(2), pp.177–193. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2800845.

Grinsell, L. V., 1977. The Rollright Stones and their folklore, St Peter Port: Toucan Press.

Hemp, W.J., 1929. Belas Knap Long Barrow, Gloucestershire. Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, 51, pp.261–272.

Lambrick, G., 1988. The Rollright Stones, Megaliths, Monuments, and Settlements in the Prehistoric Landscape, Swindon: English Heritage.

Parsons, J., 2002. Great Sites: Belas Knap [Online]. British Archaeology, 62. Available at: http://www.archaeologyuk.org/ba/ba63/feat3.shtml [Accessed April 5, 2013].

Thomas, J., 1988. The Social Significance of Cotswold-Severn Burial Practices. Man, 23(3), pp.540–559. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2803265.

 

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Written on February 10th, 2013 , Diploma Year One Tags: , ,

Visit date: 13th January 2013

Weather: Cold, but clear and sunny.

Introduction

The field trip started at Kents (the traditional spelling (D. A. McFarlane & Lundberg 2013)) Cavern itself, where we had a guided tour from one of the Cavern employees. We then walked down the Illsham valley beside the cave system and discussed the formation of caves and the significance, or lack of, of the situation of the cave near a valley (Paul Rainbird pointed out that you would expect to find such caves near what is now a valley, as that’s the kind of geology they occur in!). We walked to the promontory called Hope’s Nose, to see the raised beach (Figure 1) there and then headed back to the cars. Hope’s Nose will not be discussed here, as although it is obviously evidence of sea level alteration appropriate to a discussion of the Palaeolithic, it is primarily of geological, not archaeological, interest.

 

Figure 1: Raised beach at Hope's Nose. Jan 2013. Source: K Bragg.

Figure 1: Raised beach at Hope’s Nose. Jan 2013. Source: K Bragg.

Kents Cavern

Grid Reference:  SX 934 642

Map

 

Figure 2: Map of Torbay showing the location of Kents Cavern. Source White & Pettitt 2009 :Fig.1

Figure 2: Map of Torbay showing the location of Kents Cavern. Source White & Pettitt 2009 :Fig.1

 

Site Overview

Kents Cavern consists of slightly under 1km of passageways formed in the Middle-Upper Devonian Torquay Limestone karst of Lincombe hill, Torquay (Lundberg & D. A. McFarlane 2008 :1-3). It is of interest not only for the geology, but also for the, admittedly contested (M. White & P. Pettitt 2012), claim to have produced the earliest remains of modern humans (T. Higham et al. 2011), a claim that will be considered further later.

Kents Cavern was formed by the weak acid in rainwater slowly dissolving the limestone via fissures in the non-porous rock and slowly etching out the passages we see today. The resulting water percolating through the rock picks up additional mineral content and deposits this in the form of stalactites and stalagmites within the cave, making impressive formations. One of these resembles a face (Figure 3).

 

Figure 3: The 'flowstone' face. Jan 2013. Source: Author.

Figure 3: The ‘flowstone’ face. Jan 2013. Source: Author.

 

Investigation History

Year Investigation type Investigation Details
1824 Excavation Northmore begins to excavate Kents Cavern, after reading Buckland’s Reliquiae Diluvianae (Kennard 1945 :156), and in search of a ‘Mithratic Cavern’ (Schulting et al. 2012).
1824 Excavation Sir William Trevelyan dug in Kents Cavern and discovered the teeth of rhinoceros, tiger and hyena, along with jaws of fox and bear (Kennard 1945 :183).
1825 Excavation William Buckland makes a find of a flint knife. Later that same year, Buckland, Northmore and MacEnery discover a rhinoceros tooth and what would seem to be a further flint blade (Kennard 1945 :185-6).
1825-1829 Excavation At the behest of the geologist William Buckland (M J White & P B Pettitt 2009), Father John MacEnery excavated within Kent’s Cavern periodically from 1825 to 1829 (Mihai et al. 2010). Among his finds were flint tools sealed in a deposit below a flowstone floor, in association with the remains of extinct animals. At the time, the idea that this therefore proved the antiquity of man, was rejected by Buckland and others as contradicting the biblical understanding of the history of the human species, and the publication of these findings suppressed (P. B. Pettitt & M. J. White 2010), although it is also suggested that the cost of publication was the prohibitive factor (Pengelly 1868).MacEnery’s excavations were important to development of the discipline of archaeology, as the discoveries made at Kents Cavern helped to prove the antiquity of the human species and the co-existence with animals now observably extinct (M J White & P B Pettitt 2009:767).
1865-1880 Excavation Pengelly undertook a more comprehensive excavation of Kents Cavern, greatly enlarging the space within the cave as he discovered passages and chambers that had been filled with sediment (Proctor & Smart 1989).Aside from the artefacts discovered during excavation, the importance of Pengelly’s work at Kents Cavern lies also with his systematic excavation methodology (Figure 4), a methodology that may have influenced General Pitt-Rivers in the development of modern archaeological techniques (P. B. Pettitt & M. J. White 2010). Pengelly used a system of ‘prisms’ to systematically record where in the cave the artefacts were located, raising his work far above that of most contemporary Victorian antiquarians (D. A. McFarlane & Lundberg 2005 :40). Further work has found errors with his survey (Mihai et al. 2010), errors that can possibly be forgiven when one considers the candle-lit and cramped conditions under which he would have been working.
1926-1941 Excavation During excavations between 1926-1941 (Hilts 2012 :13), Dowie and Ogilvie discovered the KC4 Maxilla fragment in 1927, belonging to what is claimed as an anatomically modern human (D. A. McFarlane & Lundberg 2013). The dating of this find has been a source of controversy as Higham et al. (2011) have claimed a date of 44.2-41.5 ka cal BP for this tooth fragment, based not on direct dating –  as too little collagen remained, but from the radiocarbon determinations of faunal remains in close stratigraphic proximity (P. Pettitt & M. White 2012 :382). Pettit and White argue that the assumption that the deposits in which all the artefacts were located were undisturbed, is problematic, demonstrated by the dating for material found above the maxilla returning an older date, meaning that the contexts were disturbed. Even from the point of view of the geology, establishing stratigraphic relationships for sediments deposited in caves is problematic (Lundberg & D. A. McFarlane 2007 :207).The implications of the claimed date would be that modern humans were present in the British Isles much earlier than previously thought, and therefore that technologies previously attributed to Neanderthals based on date determinations, are now possible attributable to modern humans instead and that the possibility of interaction between Neanderthal and Modern Humans is greatly increased. (P. Pettitt & M. White n.d.). This obviously would have implications for our understanding of tool development and knowledge transmission, and possibly even exchange of artefacts between the different groups, and would have the potential to rewrite the story of the Palaeolithic in Britain entirely, so the controversy over both the species and the dating is of quite some importance.
1934 Survey Kents Cavern was surveyed by P. M. B. Lake in 1934 and a plan produced that represented the layout of the cave but not the elevation (Proctor & Smart 1989).
2009 Excavation Using Pengelly’s notes and diagrams, Paul Pettit and Mark White sought out unexcavated cave sediments, in search of artefacts that could provide dating evidence, environmental evidence, and to reassess the earlier excavations (P. Pettitt & M. White 2012a :16).

 

Figure 4: The Pengelly Excavation System. Source: D. A. McFarlane & Lundberg 2005: Fig.1

Figure 4: The Pengelly Excavation System. Source: D. A. McFarlane & Lundberg 2005: Fig.1


Chronology and Current Interpretation

The earliest use of the cave seems to be as a hibernation site for cave bear Ursus deningeri/speleaus, whose occupation seems to date to the Marine Isotope Stage 12 or 11 (D. a. McFarlane & Lundberg 2013 :1629). Acheulian flint tools were found by MacEnery and have been suggested to be around 500,000 years old. From their condition, it is suggested that they actually originated outside the cave and were washed in (Lundberg & D. a. McFarlane 2007 :220). The small number of Aurignacian artefacts found is probably representing a brief occupation, rather than residence (P. Pettitt & M. White 2012 :406).

The KC4 Maxilla, as discussed above, demonstrates the presence of what are purported to be anatomically modern humans in the cave, sometime during MIS3 (P. Pettitt & M. White 2012 :382). There is some doubt as to whether the sample is a modern human, and may well be a later Neanderthal, owing to some ambiguity in the morphology of the specimen when compared to the rules used to distinguish between the two (P. Pettitt & M. White 2012a).

Mesolithic bone fragments have also been found in the cave, including part of an ulna from the Sloping Chamber, excavated by Pengelly (Schulting et al. 2012). A radiocarbon assessment of this bone yielded an early Mesolithic date (OxA-20588: 7314–7075 cal BC at 95% confidence). This bone was broken at around the time of death, and also exhibits cut-marks suggestive of removal of flesh, possibly as part of a ritual to transform the body, or anthropophagy, which Schulting et al. appear to gingerly express a preference for as the interpretation (Schulting et al. 2012).

As most of the finds from Kents Cavern have since been lost or distributed to private collections, it is impossible to assess what was originally found and its potential meaning. The artefacts from the cave span from Middle Palaeolithic tools assumed to be of Neanderthal manufacture, to Upper Palaeolithic tools indicative of modern humans. In either case, extended occupation within the cave is not thought to have happened and the artefacts are as a result of seasonal occupation associated with hunting. It is suggested that the situation of the cave beside a narrow valley afforded an opportunity for hunting wild animals by corralling them into the valley and then picking them off, and explains the use of the cave (P. Pettitt & M. White 2012b).

Bibliography

Higham, T. et al., 2011. The earliest evidence for anatomically modern humans in northwestern Europe. Nature, 479, pp.521–524.

Hilts, C., 2012. First modern human in Britain? Kent’s Cavern Controversy. Current Archaeology, (262), pp.12–13.

Kennard, A.S., 1945. The early digs in Kent’s Hole, Torquay, and Mrs. Cazalet. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, 56(4), pp.156–213. Available at: http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0016787845800111 [Accessed April 30, 2013].

Lundberg, J. & McFarlane, D.A., 2008. Kents Cavern: a field guide to the natural history, William Pengelly Cave Studies Trust and Kents Cavern.

Lundberg, J. & McFarlane, D.A., 2007. Pleistocene depositional history in a periglacial terrane: A 500 k.y. record from Kents Cavern, Devon, United Kingdom. Geosphere, 3(4), p.199. Available at: http://geosphere.gsapubs.org/cgi/doi/10.1130/GES00085.1 [Accessed January 15, 2013].

McFarlane, D.A. & Lundberg, J., 2013. On the occurrence of the scimitar-toothed cat, Homotherium latidens (Carnivora; Felidae), at Kents Cavern, England. Journal of Archaeological Science, 40(4), pp.1629–1635. Available at: http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0305440312004876 [Accessed January 15, 2013].

McFarlane, D.A. & Lundberg, J., 2005. The 19th century excavation of Kent’s Cavern, England. Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, 67(1), pp.39–47.

Mihai, S. et al., 2010. Pengelly’s legacy reconsidered: a GIS approach to spatial analysis of palaeontological and archaeological collections from Kents Cavern, England. Proceedings of the Geologists’ Association, 121(3), pp.319–325. Available at: http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0016787810000568 [Accessed March 12, 2013].

Pengelly, W., 1868. The literature of Kent’s Cavern, prior to 1859. Transactions of the Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature, and Art., 1, pp.469–522.

Pettitt, P. B. & White, M. J., 2010. Cave men: Stone tools, Victorian science, and the “primitive mind” of deep time. Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 65(1), pp.25–42. Available at: http://rsnr.royalsocietypublishing.org/cgi/doi/10.1098/rsnr.2010.0100 [Accessed April 28, 2013].

Pettitt, P. & White, M., Ancient Digs and Modern Myths: The Age and Context of the Kent’s Cavern 4 Maxilla and the Earliest Homo sapiens Specimens in Europe [Online]. Maney Publishing. Available at: 28/04/2013.

Pettitt, P. & White, M., 2012a. Early Homo sapiens in Kent’s Cavern. Current Archaeology, (262), pp.20–21.

Pettitt, P. & White, M., 2012b. Return to Kent’s Cavern: New excavations in Britain’s oldest Scheduled Ancient Monument. Current Archaeology, (262), pp.14–19.

Pettitt, P. & White, M., 2012c. The British Paleolithic: Human Societies at the Edge of the Pleistocene World, Abingdon: Routledge.

Proctor, C.J. & Smart, P.L., 1989. A new survey of Kent’s Cavern, Devon. University of Bristol Spelaeological Society, 18(3), pp.422–429.

Schulting, R.J. et al., 2012. A Cut-marked and Fractured Mesolithic Human Bone from Kent’s Cavern, Devon, UK. International Journal of Osteoarchaeology. Available at: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1002/oa.2261 [Accessed April 28, 2013].

White, M J & Pettitt, P B, 2009. The demonstration of human antiquity: three rediscovered illustrations from the 1825 and 1846 excavations in Kent’s Cavern (Torquay, England). Antiquity, 83, pp.758–768.

White, M. & Pettitt, P., 2012. Ancient Digs and Modern Myths: The Age and Context of the Kent’s Cavern 4 Maxilla and the Earliest Homo sapiens Specimens in Europe. European Journal of Archaeology, 15(3), pp.392–420. Available at: http://openurl.ingenta.com/content/xref?genre=article&issn=1461-9571&volume=15&issue=3&spage=392 [Accessed April 10, 2013].

 

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Written on January 13th, 2013 , Diploma Year One

Visit date: 14th October 2012

Weather: Sunny

Introduction

This field trip was intended to make us think about the different ways in which museums can tell a story about the objects they display, and to highlight any evidence for the archaeological theory we had been studying in the choices made as to how information is presented. Much of the material here is from my notes taken at the time as I recorded my impressions of the museums.

Pitt Rivers Museum

Site Overview

The display cases of the Pitt Rivers museum, October 2012. Copyright author

Figure 1: The display cases of the Pitt Rivers museum, October 2012. Copyright K Bragg

The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford was founded in 1884, based on the, largely anthropological, collections of General Augustus Land Fox Pitt Rivers of Cranborne Chase (Petch 1998 :77) and is known worldwide for its typological approach to the display of artefacts (Gosden & Larson 2007:107).  Pitt Rivers was keen to point out the relationship he perceived between Natural History and its long-recognised need to classify its subject matter, and the ethnographic specimens which he collected, which, he argued, should also be classifiable in a scientific manner (Gosden & Larson 2007:107). Underpinning his argument is an unspoken assumption that form and function are intrinsically related and a typology imposed upon the material is somehow internal to the objects and not external like the geographical distinctions he disdained (Gosden & Larson 2007:110).

The General was intent on displaying not only his collections, but his ideas about archaeology and anthropology; the negotiations regarding the opening of this museum set out clearly his intent and the conditions under which he would provide his collections (Larson 2007) and his stipulation of the appointment of a lecturer in anthropology greatly assisted the study of this subject at Oxford (Gosden & Larson 2007:38). His choice of destination for his collections reflected the desire to retain a degree of control over how the material would be displayed, and to achieve intellectual and political goals. He believed that the demonstration of the continuity of ideas and development would discourage revolutionary thinking amongst the Victorian poor (Chapman 1982 :266).

 

The majority of the collection was obtained at second hand, through auction houses or by procurement from other collectors (Petch 2006: 259), collecting being de rigueur in the 19th century (Petch 1998 :77). This has necessarily meant that information about the provenance of the artefacts is not generally complete and is in some cases restricted to the tags attached to the individual artefacts (Petch 2006 :259), as shown in Figure 2.

Sample of labels from the Pitt Rivers Museum. Source Pitt Rivers Museum Guide Book

Figure 2: Sample of labels from the Pitt Rivers Museum. Source Pitt Rivers Museum Guide Book

As can be seen in Figure 2, the Pitt Rivers Museum is a somewhat dimly-lit room, with additional galleries above, containing an array of display cases, closely-packed. This museum itself is tucked away behind the comparatively bright and airy Oxford University Museum of Natural History (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Oxford University Museum of Natural History. October 2012. Copyright author.

Figure 3: Oxford University Museum of Natural History. October 2012. Copyright K Bragg.

Each of the display cases in the Pitt Rivers Museum contains a collection of artefacts grouped together into themes such as textile working, or animal forms in art (shown in Figure 4 below)

Figure 4: Case containing examples of animal forms in art. Oct 2012. Copyright K Bragg.

Figure 4: Case containing examples of animal forms in art. Oct 2012. Copyright K Bragg.

Each of the cases makes no distinction between time and place, only the theme of the case, so that ancient artefacts sit alongside Victorian-era ethnographic material. Embedded in this is an assumption that people perceived as ‘primitive’ in Victorian times were equivalent to those exhibiting similar technological levels, no matter the time period. The idea of evolution and the gradual and inexorable progress from simple to more complex was a recent and influential idea (Bowden 2009 :48), and the Victorian antiquarians related this to the progression of societies from primitive to modern (Pettitt & White 2010). The slightly distasteful adjunct to this theory was that gaps in the knowledge of prehistory could be found in other cultures who had ‘fossilized’ their state of development, being unable to attain the dizzy heights of the Caucasian race as exemplified by Victorian achievements (Van Keuren 1984 :176).

The Museum today doesn’t really present much of the idea of this evolutionary progression of technology and culture, as there is no sense of time represented within the museum. In many ways, this mode of display seems useful to a student of archaeology or anthropology, not for the theoretical basis, but for the broad spread of examples of how a particular task can be performed. However, this may not be of use to the general public in understanding the material and risks being perceived as just an array of ‘things’ and becomes a selection of ‘curiosities’ rather than a means of obtaining information. The underlying culture-historical metanarrative is not perceptible to the general public, as this is never made explicit. There are no real explanations of what the artefacts might mean, nor why they are grouped together other than the obvious categorisation in the naming of the display case. In fact, there is a general impression that the objects stand only for themselves, and any context or biography that they might have had is stripped away, especially where the provenance is unclear. Most items seemed to be labelled but the labels were not always discernable and those that are provide little explanation e.g. Figure 5.

Figure 5: Example of labelling at Pitt Rivers Museum. Oct 2012. Copyright K Bragg.

Figure 5: Example of labelling at Pitt Rivers Museum. Oct 2012. Copyright K Bragg.


Ashmolean Museum

Site Overview

The Ashmolean Museum, like the Pitt Rivers, is based on a founding collection: a ‘cabinet of curiosities’ brought together by the actions of the Tradescents in the earlier 17th Century, and eventually bequeathed to the University of Oxford by Elias Ashmole. From this collection and later additions, the objects related to Natural History were relocated away to the Natural Science Museum (MacGregor 2001:125), and the ethnographic material was transferred to the Pitt Rivers Museum in 1886 (MacGregor 2001b:48). Pitt Rivers himself rejected the Ashmolean as a destination for his collection, owing to the perception that it no longer focussed on Natural History and he wanted to tell the story of the Natural History of humanity (Larson 2007).

As the object of this field trip was to compare and contrast the different approaches to displaying archaeological material and to discern the theoretical framework underpinning the design of the museum, not much attention was paid to the individual objects within the museum, more to how they were displayed and what stories the museum was trying to portray to its visitors.

First impressions were that this was a far more formal experience, that the displays had ben carefully thought out and arranged just so, lending an air of authority to them. Walking into the museum was a bit like entering the front door of a stately home and seeing the wonders contained within: there was a sense of theatre to the experience.

 

Figure 6: The entrance gallery to the museum: elegant statuary and bold colours. Source: http://www.coolplaces.co.uk/system/images/2175/oxford-seedo-oxford-ashmolean-museums-galleries-2175-large.jpg

Figure 6: The entrance gallery to the museum: elegant statuary and bold colours. Source: http://www.coolplaces.co.uk/system/images/2175/oxford-seedo-oxford-ashmolean-museums-galleries-2175-large.jpg

Further into the museum, the displays became more verbose and more overtly ‘educational’. The museum is divided up into geographical and also temporal sectors, for example a section about ancient Egypt.

 

Figure 7: A photograph of one of the displays in the Ashmolean. Copyright: author.

Figure 7: A photograph of one of the displays in the Ashmolean. Source: K Bragg.

 

As can be see in Figure 7 above, compared to the Pitt Rivers museum, more care is being taken to draw the visitor to each artefact and describe what it is thought to be, and its provenance. Note the multi-media enabled display, increasing the accessibility and enhancing the information that can be transmitted. Note also how assured the description is and how little space is given to understanding the meaning of the artefacts: here were are seeing an attempt at an objective, processual, interpretation of these objects, stating just what is thought to be beyond doubt or question.

If we were to question further, we might ask how these ‘facts’ are known to be true and are there any other ways the material can be read. But herein lies the problem with a museum display: you are pitching your message at the general public, with the background knowledge of the general public, who are probably going to be perfectly happy to accept these facts at face value because they have no need to question them. Entering a museum is stepping out of the normal everyday life and looking at strange objects in strange contexts and motivations and levels of interest will vary wildly. Therefore to design a display for maximum benefit to the most number of people would naturally require careful tailoring of the message: consistency and clarity must needs prevail over multiplicity of interpretation and multivocality.

 

Figure 8: Another display from the Ashmolean. Source: author.

Figure 8: Another display from the Ashmolean. Source: K Bragg.

 

Figure 8 shows the description of a statue, from this we learn that it is a large specimen and one of several similar (in order to be the largest) and that we know the date and the ‘culture’ that produced it. We learn that it was probably found in a grave. We don’t learn what it might have meant to that culture, or whether these items are only found in graves, or if they are known from other contexts. It is a purely descriptive text, yet we feel we know something more about the artefact as we can assign a series of ‘facts’ to it. As far as the narrative we are given goes, we learn nothing about it beyond its form and apparent function.

Another thought that struck me about the Ashmolean was how each culture and time period was summarised in terms of the main political events, or rulers, or systemic actions that happened. There seemed to be little to say about the detail of everyday life and it felt like a ‘kings and queens’ view of history with no space for ordinary people, only the great and the famous.

The obvious difference between the two approaches to display is that the intent of the Pitt Rivers museum was ostensibly to allow the visitors to make up their own minds and not to point out some fundamental truth (Gosden & Larson 2007:233).  In this way, although the PRM is perhaps culture-historical in its premise, it also has post-processual credentials also, in that multiplicities of interpretations are allowed; although the museum provides a taxonomic framework for the artefacts, the meanings within this are still negotiable, there are no grand narratives writ large as at the Ashmolean.


Bibliography

Bowden, M., 2009. Pitt Rivers: The Life and Archaeological Work of Lieutenant-General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, Cambridge University Press.

Chapman, W.R., 1982. Ethnology in the Museum: A.H.L.F. Pitt Rivers (1827–1900) and the Institutional Foundations of British Anthropology. Unpublished D.Phil thesis. University of Oxford.

Gosden, C. & Larson, F., 2007. Knowing Things: Exploring the Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum 1884-1945, Oxford University Press.

Van Keuren, D.K., 1984. Museums and ideology: Augustus Pitt-Rivers, anthropological museums, and social change in later Victorian Britain. Victorian Studies, 28(1), pp.171–189. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2307/3826763 [Accessed November 16, 2012].

Larson, F., 2007. Anthropological landscaping: General Pitt Rivers, the Ashmolean, the University Museum and the shaping of an Oxford discipline. Journal of the History of Collections, 20(1), pp.85–100. Available at: http://jhc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/doi/10.1093/jhc/fhm020 [Accessed October 14, 2012].

MacGregor, A., 2001a. The Ashmolean as a museum of natural history, 1683 1860. Journal of the History of Collections, 13(2), pp.125–144. Available at: http://jhc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/doi/10.1093/jhc/13.2.125 [Accessed October 14, 2012].

MacGregor, A., 2001b. The Ashmolean Museum: A Brief History of the Museum and Its Collections: A History of the Museum and Its Collections (Ashmolean Handbooks), Oxford: Ashmolean Museum.

Petch, A., 2006. Chance and certitude: Pitt Rivers and his first collection. Journal of the History of Collections, 18(2), pp.257–266. Available at: http://jhc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/doi/10.1093/jhc/fhl028 [Accessed October 14, 2012].

Petch, A., 1998. “Man as he was and man as he is”: General Pitt Rivers’s collections. Journal of the History of Collections, 10(1), pp.75–85. Available at: http://jhc.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/doi/10.1093/jhc/10.1.75.

Pettitt, P.B. & White, M.J., 2010. Cave men: Stone tools, Victorian science, and the “primitive mind” of deep time. Notes and Records of the Royal Society, 65(1), pp.25–42. Available at: http://rsnr.royalsocietypublishing.org/cgi/doi/10.1098/rsnr.2010.0100 [Accessed April 28, 2013].

 

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Written on October 14th, 2012 , Diploma Year One

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