Geography of England

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……

Wiltshire Council logo

Inspiring a community in the heart of a World Heritage Site: Community Archaeology in the Ironbridge Gorge

Hi, I’m Sam, and I’m the Council of British Archaeology (CBA) funded Community Archaeology Training Placement based at the Ironbridge Gorge Museum Trust in Shropshire. I started my training post back in April this year and have so far been involved in a variety of events and activities that will hopefully provide me with the skills to work in community archaeology when my placement finishes in 2014.

My average day usually always starts the same way, checking emails and messages, and responding to any enquiries that may have come in from volunteers, local societies, schools, or members of the community with an interest in archaeology. For example, on Saturday we’re running a taster session for the Young Archaeologists Club as part of the Festival of Archaeology, so this morning there were a handful of emails regarding that.

Guiding a World War themed walk back in June

Guiding a World War themed walk back in June

Once emails etc have been checked, my day can vary quite considerably, and I suppose that’s the beauty of working in community archaeology.  The variety of my work is essentially because my role here at Ironbridge is to engage the local community with the archaeology in the area. Sometimes this is a simple task, especially when people already have an interest in the subject, but at other times the target audience may not be able to jump in a trench and excavation to their hearts content, but this does not mean that they don’t want to be involved. Therefore we look to involve everyone by leading guided walks, running public lecture series and workshops, visiting local schools and holding regular volunteer sessions for people to become involved in projects such as finds recording, archiving, research and even some excavation.

Volunteers working on a finds recording project

Volunteers working on a finds recording project

So what does my day entail today? Emails have been checked, and so my attention can now turn to an upcoming volunteer project looking into the site of a china works based in the village of Madeley, just down the road from the museums offices. This will involve a small scale excavation planned for September, so I’m busy putting together the project design and most importantly making sure that we’ll have the right equipment and man power for the job. Then this afternoon, I’m going to be allowed out of the office and into the sunshine, to lead a guided walk around the sites associated with the ceramic industry in Jackfield and Coalport.

At times, any job in archaeology can seem a little repetitive and mundane, but being able to work with people who have a genuine interest and love for the archaeology and heritage of this area does brighten up even the dullest of days. I am forever learning new things and finding new paths to explore, and I can safely say that I enjoy my job.

From Bricks to the Baptist: A Day of Archaeology in Peterborough.

The Day of Archaeology seems to have unintentionally have been a day spent in ecclesiastical settings for me. It started with a visit to St Michaels and All Angels Church in Sutton near Peterborough for the Cambridgeshire Conservation Officer Forum meeting. This gathering happens every three months or so and allows Conservation Officers across the region to share best practice. It is hosted by a different authority each time, and this time it was our turn! Sutton Church was chosen as it has recently had works to create a new meeting space and kitchen within the 12th century fabric.

Douglas from SPAB giving his presentation in the evening. Photo by Toby Wood

Built as a chapel of ease to Castor St Kyneburgha (a stunning church as well), it has lovely Norman period carvings and some great gargoyles! Each meeting has a specialist building conservation presenter and for this meeting we had Peter Minter of Cambridge Brick and Tile Company (and Bulmer Brick & Tile), who brought some samples with him to show issues affecting tiles (make sure you ventilate your roofs, was the overarching message). Following this we visited Sacrewell Farm and Country Centre, just a mile up the road, to see their Grade II* listed Watermill, recently the recipient of a first round pass from the Heritage Lottery Fund.

In the evening I was back to a church, this time St John the Baptist in Peterborough City Centre, for the celebration event for Peterborough Buildings in Need, a project I have been running for the last nine months. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund this project has had a series of masterclasses and lectures on the theme of valuing the historic environment, alongside volunteer surveys of Peterborough City Centre Conservation Area. The website and end of project report and toolkit are here. The evening had some great talks, including from Douglas Kent from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings or SPAB (in the photo above), and some performance poets reading their poetry about the city (including a poem just for the project, on the front page of the website, and well worth a read!).

Alice Kershaw, Heritage Regeneration Officer

Opportunity Peterborough and Peterborough City Council

 

A Slightly Less Archaeological Day Than Usual

Last weekend my left knee decided to stop working. So I had the day off today.  This means doing work for the course I am undertaking alongside my full-time job.

I work as the archaeology officer for Southwark Council. Other than staff in the Heritage team who work in the Borough’s museum, I am the only archaeologist at the Council. I work within the Development Management department (we no longer control development, we manage it!). I advise planning officers on whether proposals comply with the requirements of the Borough’s archaeology policy, wider heritage policies and the relevant paragraphs of the National Planning Policy Framework. I issue briefs for archaeological work, check WSIs, monitor site work, check reports, make recommendations for the discharge of archaeological conditions and manage much of the digital data for the department. Along side the archaeological work I also undertake some conservation work where an archaeological input is necessary or valuable or if it is a GIS heavy project.

I work in a team with conservation officers, urban design officers and a tree officer. As part of my employer’s commitment to staff training I am currently undertaking a postgraduate diploma in Historic Environment Conservation at the Ironbridge Institute. This is part of the Institute of Antiquity and Archaeology at Birmingham that is currently threatened with closure. Ironbridge is an immensely valuable training organisation that provides recognised degrees and qualifications that are organised in a way whereby those in full-time work can easily undertake the qualification with a minimal level of interference with their full-time jobs.

I have nearly finished by essay on concrete conservation (far more interesting than it sounds) and would urge anyone reading this to visit this web page for more information on the potential closure http://saveiaa.wordpress.com/. If you wish to support the effort to preserve the IAA please sign the petition http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/save-the-iaa/.

Objects, Advice, and a Bit of Thinking…

A day in my life as an archaeologist and finds specialist for English Heritage

As one of the small team of archaeologists within the Intervention and Analysis Division of English Heritage, based at Fort Cumberland, Portsmouth, and working 80% of full time due to the three young herberts who more than fill a million percent of the rest of time, my days are always full, and rarely the same. Technology, determination and flexible bosses enable me to cram a fair amount into a week.

My day starts at around 5am with a reading of emails, then the next couple of hours are given over to lunchboxes, breakfasts, hens, cats, dogs, hamsters, after a smidge of yoga before the madness starts. Throughout this time I also tend to listen to the radio or the reading or the violin practice, while catching up on my Twitter feed (@Nicola_Hembrey), which is great for archaeological news (and a little bit of gossip!). Once the school runs are done I dash to the office, and I’m usually sitting at my desk with a fennel and ginger tea by 9.15am. I have a super view out over Hayling Island, and on a clear day I can hear, Table 2, your lunch is ready, from the pub over the stretch of water! I’ve been at the Fort for thirteen years and I love working within such a diverse, committed and interesting group of colleagues, although the annual ten months of horizontal rain can be a something of a trial.

Fabulous office! Sharp eyes will note the obligatory boxes of finds and X-Rays. Sadly the shelves and stacks of books, and the lovely view, are out of shot…

Yesterday I was – unusually – able to give myself over to an almost entire day of concentrating on one thing; the middle poster above is taken from the site I project manage, the Roman settlement opposite Silbury Hill, which we evaluated in the late summer of 2010, and for which the report is almost complete, hence a day of reading all the specialist contributions, and polishing up my own! I have written the artefacts report, and together with my colleague Vicky Crosby, who led the excavations, I’m working on the overview. I’ve been doing a great deal of thinking and reading in recent weeks about any ritual aspect to the site. We hope to submit the report to the local journal, the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Magazine,  in good time before the end of August deadline. The project team have been brilliant in getting this to publication so quickly – in archaeological terms at least! – while under considerable pressure and uncertainty from our recent round of restructuring.

Today, though, I don’t have the luxury of getting back to the Later Silbury report, as I have to finish off the list that I’ve been mentally carting around all week, to avoid next week spiralling away before I’m even out of this one. The illustrations need a final check. My mountain of library books needs renewing.  I’ve been asked to write a caption for a photograph for a colleague’s memorial event leaflet. I have to write the final section of my performance review. Timelog doesn’t complete itself. I desperately need to catch up on reading the Assessment Report for a project which I have been asked project manage following the redundancy of another colleague, a process which has been difficult for all of us, and the effects of which will be felt for a long while. I whizz down to our stash of outreach material, to find a few objects to donate to a project that wants to bury artefacts at sea for 25 years. I also reply to someone who is working on the update of the professional side of the EH website, after spending an hour writing comments on the pieces of text that he has sent me.

Current reading, mostly concerned with the theorising of artefacts. Books strapped up in the old-fashioned way make me very happy…

Last year I was able to write up the small assemblage of finds that came from our work as part of the Silbury Hill Conservation Project, and I was also lucky enough to revisit the finds from previous interventions in the area. The Monograph text is currently with our publications team. One of the most interesting objects was an unusual copper-alloy bracelet which came from the base of a Roman ditch, but was of Later Bronze Age or Earlier Iron Age date. This sent me off on a long thought process about the significance of heirloom artefacts – those old objects that are important to people because of their association with another person, or an idea, or a particular time in their life. It made me wonder whether getting to grips with this idea from a present perspective could illuminate our thinking about the importance of old objects in the past; something nigh-on impossible to get to grips with within the archaeological record. This led to the beginnings of a project that I’m hoping to get off the ground with a few colleagues; a public survey, with a large social media element, in which people can post details of their object, and from which we can analyse the data later. I made a phone call, to see if there had been any response yet to our proposal; nothing so far. Hopefully it will happen. Keep your eyes peeled for Objects Of My Affection.

Finally while in the office I had a quick look over my website. I’m secretary and web editor for the Roman Finds Group, a forum for all those with an interest in the subject (do check us out online; we’re really very good). I added the details of our forthcoming meeting at the British Museum in April 2013, in which attendees can visit the Pompeii exhibition as part of the very reasonable conference fee (sorry, ad over now!). I’m lucky that EH gives me a small amount of time in which I can sit on this committee.

I leave in time for the return school run, and spend the next couple of hours listening to stories of everyone’s day and making supper, while keeping my emails (and Twitter!) open from the iPad in the kitchen. It’s the best way to stay on top of things.

I then spend a while re-reading comments that I wrote earlier in the week, on a finds report within a site publication which we have funded through our grants programme, National Heritage Protection Commissions. The report had been a long time coming, but turned out to be really well researched, well thought out and well written. I can easily see it becoming a ‘go-to’ text for finds reports when it’s published. If I have the space within my deadlines I like to write my comments and then leave them a day or so before sending, just to make sure that I haven’t missed anything.

Working from home, commenting on a lengthy finds report. I don’t normally print out this much paper! Note the extremely hi-tech phone…

Finally, I respond to an email from the Activity Lead of the Ploughzone Activity Team, which has recently been formed as part of the National Heritage Protection Plan. He needs all team members to comment on a proposal. Almost all of our communication is by email to keep costs down, as we come from EH offices all over the country. I add it to my mental list for next week, and mark the email unread, to remind myself.

Later I’ll do some more reading, and thinking, if I don’t fall asleep first.

So, there it is, a typical day in the life of this (lucky) archaeologist. I seem to have got all the way to the end of this post without including a picture of either an object, or myself, which is probably something of an oversight (particularly the former!). Here’s a happy picture of me (at front, red shoes) with the gorgeous site team at Later Silbury, instead.

 

Nicola Hembrey, Archaeologist (Artefact Analysis), English Heritage  @Nicola_Hembrey

29 vi 2012

Hengistbury Head Survey Project 2012

The Hengistbury Head Survey Project will begin it’s second season on Monday (2-20 July 2012) by members of the Department of Archaeology at the University of Southampton. The projects main aim is to assess the impact of cliff erosion on the multi-period archaeology of the headland through a detail topographic survey. Feel free to follow us  and check out our research aims below.

http://www.southampton.ac.uk/assets/imported/transforms/peripheral-block/UsefulDownloads_Download/EDB866C762D646E8A8E44A30FBE65A88/HengistburyHeadSurveyProject2012.pdf

 

 

Archaeology at Letchworth Museum: telling stories about the past

A bronze escutcheon from an Iron Age wine-mixing vessel

A bronze escutcheon from an Iron Age wine-mixing vessel found in Baldock © North Hertfordshire District Council

We archaeologists are constantly reassuring the public that it’s not all about treasure: we are as interested in rubbish (if not more so) than in Tut‘ankhamun’s gaudy baubles. Yet we all go slightly dewy-eyed when something really beautiful turns up, even if we are sometimes ashamed to admit it. A gold stater of Cunobelin found on site will have everyone rushing across to see it: yet another sherd of Harrold shelly ware will not.

This isn’t hypocrisy. As I explained in my previous post, most archaeological finds really aren’t suitable for public display. All too often, they consist of fragments – slivers of animal bone, potsherds, rusty lumps of iron – that are, frankly, uninspiring (unless you know what you’re looking at, of course!). When we find something that is instantly recognisable for what it is – a well preserved brooch, a sculpted stone, a complete pot – it really is more exciting. And the good thing, from the point of view of a museum archaeologist, is that it is easier to tell stories about it to non-archaeologists.

For this reason, museums tend to display their best looking artefacts. With a collection that is varied, there is almost an embarrassment of riches: we have to pick and choose what goes on display. We also have to pick and choose which items will be priorities in our disaster management plans. Which objects do we save first? The most valuable? The most fragile? The most iconic? It is always a difficult decision and one for which there are no right answers. I have my own personal favourites that are on display, but they are not necessarily the artefacts that would need to be saved first.

Tenth-century sword chape from Ashwell

Tenth-century sword chape from Ashwell © North Hertfordshire District Council

Because Letchworth Museum tells the story of North Hertfordshire from the arrival of the first humans (actually most likely members of the species Homo heidelbergensis) over 400,000 years ago through to the turn of the twentieth century, there is an enormous range of objects on display. We have Lower Palaeolithic hand axes from Hitchin, Mesolithic tranchet axes from Weston park, a Neolithic polished axe from Pirton, a Bronze Age Ballintober type sword from Gosmore… By the time we reach the Iron Age, there are so many objects that could potentially be displayed that we are forced to choose the best: we have two cauldrons (one from Letchworth Garden City and one from Baldock), for instance. Pride of place goes to the early Welwyn-type burial from Baldock, which was packed with treasures. Moving into the Roman period, there is a beautiful marble portrait head, probably from Radwell, that is among the finest ever found in Britain.

Although the closure of the museum in September will mean that these items will not be available for public viewing again until the new museum opens in 2014, we are working on a digitisation scheme that we hope will make selected parts of the collections available through the web. We are currently looking at collections management systems and web-based solutions for making our huge collections accessible to a wider public. There are interesting (and busy!) times ahead.

Digging into the Social History of Archaeology at Verulamium

hypocaust currently in Verulamium Park

Hypocaust currently in Verulamium Park

The museum archaeologist’s lot can be varied and since being restructured to the role of Collections Manager my role is broader than pure archaeology. However, this has given me the scope to develop some really interesting and exciting projects and one of them is to do oral history interviews with as many archaeologists who have dug on our site at Verulamium as I can. There are several aspects to this project, a bit of hunting around and trying to track people down, then going along and interviewing them using our digital Marantz recorder and then coming back to the museum transcribing interviews.In the morning I found myself looking through the transcript of an interview in order to try to find some quotes to go with historic photographs. I’m slowly pulling together all of this research for a book which I hope to publish, we have interviews with archaeologists who worked with Mortimer Wheeler right the way through to our present day District Archaeologist. Many of today’s most respected archaeologists worked at Verulamium and these interviews are a record of their experience, life as a digging archaeologist and the town at the time.It’s fascinating work, not the least seeing some of our most interesting and exciting objects being excavated. For example, the image to the top left is from the 1930’s of the hypocaust currently in Verulamium Park
and here is one of the excavators talking about it:

“…we were all rather excited about the hypocaust… and I was one of those who had the fortunate opportunity to crawl along the channel, under the pavement, between the pilae which supported it. I struck matches to see where I was going, and found myself under the centre of the mosaic…”
Helen Carlton-Smith 1980

Another aspect of my work is to work on the museum documentation system. I am currently trying to improve the records by adding photographs and as much additional information about objects as I can. The afternoon was spent taking photographs of metal medieval and post medieval artefacts and then integrating them into the database.Of course, in between this there was the usual stream of public enquiries which are rich, varied and interesting. I tracked down a map which detailed all the WWII air raid shelters in St Albans and did a bit of research on the local dairy for someone. I was also part of the team which considered some new objects for acquisition- some historic CND banners.I often wonder what an oral history interview with me would sound like in fifty years!