Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Balfour and lithic technology

Alison Petch, Researcher 'The Other Within' project and Frances Larson

Henry Balfour trained as a natural scientist, which encouraged him to be observant, to collect evidence and to examine it carefully. He brought this training into his daily life as a curator, scholar and collector. One of the areas this training showed itself most clearly was in Balfour's interest in stone tool technology. This was not an topic about which he published many papers but he did publish some (which are listed at the end of this page).

Haddon, in his obituary for Balfour remarked:

Stone implements appealed to Balfour and he made himself proficient in the art of chipping and flaking flint in order to appreciate the techniques employed by ancient and modern peoples. He wrote a few papers on stone implements and of particular value was his Presidential Address to the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia (1925) on "The Status of the Tasmanians among Stone-using Peoples". His mature conclusions on the stone implements of the Tasmanians are embodied in his post-humous book Stone Implements of the Natives of Tasmania, which will shortly be published at Oxford. Between I905 and 1929 he paid five visits to South Africa, and the collections he made of stone implements from the neighbourhood of the Victoria Falls, Zambezi River, and else-where gave him a wide knowledge of South African archaeology as will be seen from his Presidential Address on "South Africa's Contribution to Prehistoric Archaeology" to Section H of the South Africa Meeting of the British Association in 1929. As a result of his journey to Northern Nigeria in 1930, Balfour was the first to record cleavers of Lower Palaeolithic type from that region. [Haddon, 1939: 113]

Balfour argued in 1919 that:

Arguing from the known to the unknown, these modern survivals of early cultures have been used, as far as possible, to complete the picture of the life and industries of Prehistoric Man. From the combined material derived from ancient and modern times series were created to show, tentatively at any rate, how the more developed types of appliances were arrived at by successive slight improvements from their simple and generalized prototypes.

In this he is a clear descendant of Pitt Rivers, who believed much the same thing. See here for Pitt Rivers own work.

Balfour's teaching about technologies including stone implement technology, see here.

Balfour's work on stone tools in the Museum

The Annual Reports of the Museum do not begin until 1888, but the very first one records that Balfour has been working on displays which show 'prehistoric' collections:

During the past year [1888] the work has been chiefly confined to the Upper Gallery, and the arrangement of specimens (Prehistoric sections, savage and other weapons) upon the wall screens, and in table cases, as well as in a few upright cases. The greater portion of work in this gallery is completed, and this portion of the Museum is now sufficiently advanced to be opened to the public in the afternoons. A number of important additions are to be made to the Prehistoric series, by the transfer, from the Geological to the Anthropological Department, of a large number of Prehistoric implements, of the Stone and Bronze Ages, being a portion of the collection presented to the Museum by J. Wickham Flower, Esq.

By 1893 Balfour was already re-arranging the existing stone tool displays to accommodate new material:

In the upper gallery a partial rearrangement of the Stone Implement series has been effected. A number of glazed drawers have been added underneath the table-cases in the two galleries.

This rearrangment and arrangement continued, with stone tool displays and redisplays being mentioned in 1896, 1897,1905, 1906, 1908, 1909, 1912, 1913, 1915, 1916, 1917, 1920, 1927 and 1932.

In the 1913 Annual Report some of Balfour's motivation for reorganizing the displays is made clear:

During the Easter vacation, I visited the Dordogne district of Central France, and collected a large number of stone implements of various palaeolithic periods and from a number of sites. These have been added to the Museum series illustrating the 1ater palaeolithic cultures, which have been considerably reinforced. Important accessions to other sections of the early Prehistoric collections have also been made, involving sundry rearrangements of the series. The additions to the collections from the Swiss Lake-dwellings, and to the series of N. American stone implements are especially note-worthy. An interesting collection of small implements exhibiting delicate microlithic workmanship from Mauretania and Tunisia was purchased. A group of stone implements bas been brought together to exhibit, as far as the material allows, the highest technique of the various Stone-age periods.

In the 1909 Museum Annual Report Balfour draws attention to the use of the artefacts and displays in teaching:

The collection illustrating the implements of the Upper Palaeolithic periods (“cave” periods) has been rearranged and added to, rendering it more efficient as a teaching series. Similar work is being done in connexion with the Lower Palaeolithic periods, involving a redistribution of the exhibited and non-exhibited material.

Balfour's collections of stone tools

Balfour donated a total of 4,624 stone implements from around the world. To find out more about Balfour's collections in general go here.

Stone tools made by Balfour

Some of his collection of stone tools were made by him and donated to the collections, here are the details taken from the accession book entries:

1891.35.7-12 Dec - 6 arrowheads etc made experimentally by himself from obsidian and bottle glass

1891.59.10 April - Collection of arrow head and other 'forgeries' in flint, window glass, bottle glass, chert made by the Curator

1912.39.20 Modern flint flake showing cone-bulb and ripple-fracture, H. Balfour fecit.

1912.39.21 Modern cone of percussion, H. Balfour fecit.

1912.39.31 Cone of percussion in flint with its negative cone removed and replaceable, made by Henry Balfour.

1921.32.3 June 1921. Neolithic celt hafted in model handle, to illustrate neolithic method.

1921.32.4 June 1921. Neolithic side-scraper of flint hafted in a model handle.

1928.35.20 Negative cone-of percussion in flint, made by H. Balfour.

1932.12.16 Silhouette of a cock made of flint, by pressure-flaking, made by himself (H. Balfour).

Find out about Balfour's models

Balfour's publications about stone tools

Balfour wrote a total of five articles about stone tools. Considering the long period he spent making, researching and collecting stone implements this is a very limited publication level. The four articles are:

Balfour, Henry. 1903. ‘35. On the method employed by the natives of N.W. Australia in the Manufacture of Glass Spear-Heads’ Man vol. 3 p. 65
Balfour, Henry. 1906 'Note upon an implement of palaeolithic type from the Victoria Falls, Zambesi'. Journal of the Anthropological Institute, vol. 36 (Jan-June 1906) pp. 170-1
Balfour, Henry. 1912. ‘Notes on a collection of ancient stone implements from Ejura, Ashanti’ Journal of the Royal African Society vol. 12, no. 45, pp. 1-16
Balfour, Henry. 1929. ‘Stone Implements of the Tasmanians and the Culture-Status which they Suggest’ Australian Association for the Advancement of Science, Hobart Meeting 1928
Balfour, Henry. 1934 'Occurrence of 'Cleavers' of Lower-Palaeolithic Type in Northern Nigeria' Man, vol. 34, (February 1934) pp. 21-4

Of course, if Balfour's occasional paper on the Westlake collection had actually been published this would have dramatically improved his publication record on this topic. See here and here, for more information on this topic.

Balfour and African stone tools

Balfour and Australian stone tools

Balfour, Westlake and stone tools from Tasmania

 Technologies & Materials