Cranborne Chase

The Pitt Rivers Archaeological Models

The Pitt Rivers archaeological models from 1890′s

Part 3

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Pitt Rivers and the archaeological excavations on his estate

A retired General, Augustus Pitt Rivers inherited Cranborne Chase in 1880. Cranbourne Chase spanned over 26,000 acres across two counties, Dorset and Wiltshire. The estate contained a wealth of archaeological material from the Roman and Saxon periods and this land provided the perfect area for Pitt Rivers to investigate unspoiled archaeological remains.

 A systematic approach

Pitt Rivers excavated Cranborne Chase from the mid-1880s and whilst many previous antiquarians had been attracted to burial mounds and their beautiful treasures, Pitt Rivers was interested in a wider area of investigation. His most important innovation was to collect, record and catalogue all the artifacts, not just those most decorative treasures which were admired by his contemporaries.

His approach to studying and recording the archaeology was highly methodical. He was the first to thoroughly document the stratigraphy and position of finds. On the Cranborne Chase estate, Pitt Rivers focused on the excavation of settlements and examined all the Roman and Saxon artefacts, producing illustrations. The discovery of pottery sherds for instance was indicative of everyday life and a subject worthy of study.

Pitt Rivers also published his findings and illustrated his reports. By the standards of the time, Pitt Rivers was systematic in his approach to gathering information and his records are extensive. He is widely regarded as the first scientific archaeologist to work in Britain and archaeologists to this day acknowledge his work and legacy.

Model of Woodyates Hypocaust (1888-90)

Model of Woodyates Hypocaust (1888-90)

3-dimensional archaeological models

Pitt Rivers was inspired to improve upon his 2-dimensional plans with 3-dimensional models of his excavations. The archaeological models which survive today in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum are made from wood, wire and plaster of Paris.

The detail, scale and accuracy of the Pitt Rivers archaeological models is extraordinary. He marked where almost every object was found…

Model skeleton, created by Pitt Rivers

A model skeleton, created by Pitt Rivers from the Woodyates Hypocaust model: part of a Roman settlement, 1889-90

Pitt Rivers displayed many of these models when he opened a museum on his estate and today, the majority of the collection (approximately 22,000 objects) is held at the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford.

Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum

Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum acquired a collection of artefacts, archaeological models and manuscripts called the Pitt Rivers Wessex Collection in 1975. The four large archaeological models from the collection had been in storage for over 30 years and had not been accessible to the public.

This year, Salisbury Museum was awarded a grant from the AIM Pilgrim Trust Conservation Scheme to conserve the models. As these four models are so heavy and fragile, the Wiltshire Conservation Service moved some of its equipment to create an conservation laboatory at the museum and opened the doors to the public.

Conservation exhibition hall

The Wiltshire Conservation Service moved some of the equipment into Salisbury Museum to create a conservation laboratory and exhibition.

At many museums there is only ever enough space to display a small proportion of the collection at any one time. These models are very large and although they provide a significant resource, they do take up a good deal of space within a gallery. To make the most of the gallery space, smaller examples of Pitt Rivers’ models have been on display.  By conserving these large models today, the Conservation Service will ensure that they will be protected and remain in good condition for the future.

More posts to come……

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Historic Environment Action Plans for the Cranborne Chase

My name is Emma and I am the Historic Environment Action Plan Project Officer for the Cranborne Chase and West Wiltshire Downs Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. What a mouthful! Basically what this is about is a gorgeous piece of protected landscape on the Wiltshire Dorset border which incorporates the amazing prehistoric archaeology of the Cranborne Chase, a host of Medieval hunting landscapes, the Vale of Wardour and the chalk landscape of the West Wiltshire Downs. Since 2009  we have been prodocuing a landscape scale vision for the conservation and enhancement of the historic environment of this landscape, and have developed a series of 20 actions to achieve this. We were lucky to secure English Heritage funding for this project as a best practice exemplar for other protected areas.

We are now at the stage of implementing these actions, which leads to a snapshot of my day which has been as is typical very varied…

… first thing I had a meeting with a AONB volunteer who is leading on an action to help our parishes and communities to analyse record the historic landscape character of their villages and the surrounding landscape to inform Village Design Statements and the like. We had a trial workshop at Pimperne on Monday evening and we went through the results and looked at what worked and what didnt

… I drafted a proposal for South Wiltshire CPRE outlining how they might potentially help with the implementation of the Historic Environment Action plans

…I  sat down with my manager Linda and discussed the arrangements for a guided walk we have organised in conjunction with Martin Green on Down Farm on the Cranborne Chase. This is the second event which we have organised as part of the  festival of archaeology. The first was an archaeology seminar last Saturday on the history and archaeology of the area which 85 people came to and which was a fantastic day

…I then coordinated with Laura the eductaion officer at Salisbury Museum over a meeting she is hosting next week focusing on interprepation, education and access to the historic environment of the AONB, and how the various museums, organisations etc can work together better

…next up I responded to a proposal for a Higher Level Stewardship scheme from Natural England on one of the designed landscapes in the AONB and gave some feedback

… I sent some details on a historic farmstead i visited yesterday to one of our local councillors

… finally I got some GIS files and maps ready for next week. I have scanned some slides for Martin Green and amgiving him the .jpegs tomorow. On Tuesday am visiting the Wiltshire Archaeology Service to hand over the AONB Historic Landscape Characterisation and some other GIS files, popping into the Wiltshire Building Record and then going to see our collegues at North Wessex Downs to chat through some Historic Landscape Characterisation data with them.

…the last thing I am doing today is completing this for the Day of Archaeology and will probably post it to my own blog too. See http://historiclandscape.blogspot.com/

Thats all for me if you want to know more about our project visit www.historiclandscape.co.uk

Cheers

Emma