Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

PR in Cissbury Sussex 1867-8, 1875

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

'Excavations at Cissbury Camp' JAI 1876: Illustration 1

'Excavations at Cissbury Camp' JAI 1876: Illustration 1

'Excavations at Cissbury Camp' JAI 1876: Illustration 2

'Excavations at Cissbury Camp' JAI 1876: Illustration 2

'Excavations at Cissbury Camp' JAI 1876: Illustration 3

'Excavations at Cissbury Camp' JAI 1876: Illustration 3

'Excavations at Cissbury Camp' JAI 1876: Illustration 4

'Excavations at Cissbury Camp' JAI 1876: Illustration 4

'Excavations at Cissbury Camp' JAI 1876: Illustration 5

'Excavations at Cissbury Camp' JAI 1876: Illustration 5

'Excavations at Cissbury Camp' JAI 1876: Illustration 6

'Excavations at Cissbury Camp' JAI 1876: Illustration 6

Rolleston, a Cissbury skeleton, 1879, illustration

Rolleston, a Cissbury skeleton, 1879, illustration

Pitt Rivers described this hillfort in 1876:

Amongst ancient camps the largest in this part of England, situated on a commanding eminence three miles north of Worthing, on an expanse of down and juniper not yet reclaimed in modern times by the plough, though cultivated in Roman or pre-Roman times, as the terraces on the hill-sides show - visible from the railway and from the surrounding country for some miles, and overlooking within easy signally distance, if such were needed, the neighbouring camps of Chanktonbury [sic] and Highdown - commanding also a continuous view of more than sixty miles of coast stretching out beneath in the form of a bow ... the white cliffs of Beachy Head and Seaford on the east, ... the low ground of tertiary formation extending from Brighton and Worthing to Selsea [sic] Bill on the west, and the thin spire of Chichester, beyond which may be seen, and of ill-omen when seen, as predicting certain rain on the morrow, the chalk cliffs of Brading, in the Isle of White - this place, from these causes, has always been a point of attraction to sight-seers. [Pitt Rivers, 1876: 357]

Cissbury September 1867 and January 1868

Pitt Rivers explained his work on this hillfort:

I determined to make a series of excavations, in order to determine whether the indications of the stone age observable on the surface corresponded with those of the implements found in the soil; and if so, whether the positions in which these implements were found were such as to afford evidence of their having belonged to the people who constructed these forts [cited in Bowden, 1991: 70]

Cissbury was chosen because of its size and number of flakes on the surface. He had discovered the flints in 1867 when he was surveying lots of hill forts in Sussex. At Cissbury he opened thirty pits in two seasons, which he thought were dug for flint extraction, and also inspected a number of rectangular enclosures within the fort which he decided were probably Roman or later. He also caused a trench to be dug (workmen were doing the manual labour) in the 'part of the bottom of the ditch which was nearest to the pits'. Bowden believes this to be Pitt Rivers' first major excavation. [Bowden, 1991: 70] Greenwell came to Sussex in January 1868 to give Pitt Rivers a hand with his excavations.

Cissbury, April, June-September 1875

In the spring of 1875 he returned to Cissbury. Other people had excavated there in the interim including Mr Tyndall of Brighton and Ernest Willett who 'dug [a Cissbury shaft] with spectacular results, finding galleries similar to those at Grimes Graves'. [Bowden, 1991: 78] Willett eventually published an account of his excavation in Archaeologia, 'On flint workings at Cissbury, Sussex' vol 45 1880 337-348 having read an account at the Society of Antiquaries in 1876.[1]

Pitt Rivers reopened two of the large pits, one of which he had previously excavated, the other had been dug by Canon Greenwell. He felt that the pits had been deeper than he had assumed first time round. He established that the pits were the shafts of deep neolithic flint mines. He wanted to find out the relative ages of the flint mines and the hillfort. He was unable to fund the full excavation this site required and he was given a grant of £30 from the members of the Anthropological Institute and help from J. Park Harrison, George Rolleston and Sir Alexander Gordon amongst others. In total he excavated 6 of the shafts, and their galleries and various other trench excavations. [Bowden, 1991: 77-81]

Pitt Rivers gives a dramatic account of finding human remains whilst excavating, which shows his emotional engagement with archaeological work

we found .... that the rubble rose, indicating the presence of another shaft ... The bones of animals now appeared for the first time in considerable quantitie .... Presently a well formed and perfect lower human jaw fell down from above, and on looking up, we could perceive the remainder of the skull fixed with the base downwards, and the face towards the west, between two pieces of chalk rubble. When I saw this I hollowed out [sic] so loudly that Mr Harrison, who happened to be outside at the time, although he had himself been previously assisting in the excavation of this gallery, thought that it must have tumbled in and came with a shovel to dig up out. It was some time before I could make him understand taht we had added a third person to our party. [Pitt Rivers 1876: 375]

Afterwards they found the matching body which was later described by George Rolleston. This account is interesting because it shows that Pitt Rivers, whilst apparently engaging all his energies on archaeological investigation, was still an active soldier as he was 'called away for a day by military duty', interrupting his archaeological flow. [Pitt Rivers 1876: 376] This shaft was later called 'Skeleton Shaft' by the excavators, and Mr Willett, the previous excavator, later came to see it (see on).

During this excavation, he also engaged in experimental archaeology. He gives an account of making a set of deer horn tools for working chalk. He records that out of a set of deer horns he made two picks, one mandril, two wedges and five tine punches

Cutting off the tines with a flint took me from five to ten minutes, and the best mode of making the wedges was found to be by grinding them on a wet sandstone. Commencing with a surface of hard, smooth chalk, and taking the work turn about with one of the men, I found that we made an excavation 3 feet square and 3 feet deep in an hour and a half, consequently, by continuous labour, and sufficient reliefs, it would have taken us twelve hours to form the longest gallery found, viz 27 feet. [Pitt Rivers 1876: 382]

He carried out other experiments with other tools as well. Rolleston published a further account on the animal bones found at Cissbury, he read the paper at the meeting on 23 November 1875 but it was only published in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute, volume 6, 1877.

Cissbury became a site which involved many of the senior members of the Anthropological Institute for the next few years as the following accounts show.

Account by James Park Harrison in 'On Marks found upon Chalk at Cissbury' 1877

Harrison was one of the people Pitt Rivers asked to help him in 1875. He was born in 1817 (according to OLIS), appears to have been an ecclesiastical architect, designer of Hurley Church. We do not know a great deal about it, but he is known to have married a wife named Julia Anna Heath who was born in 1807 and died 1879. He seems to have died in 1901. He wrote several articles and books on church architecture and archaeology. This work includes several about items in the Pitt Rivers Museum:

'On a glass necklace from Arica in the Pitt-Rivers museum at Oxford' and ' Chevron or sun beads in the Oxford Museums', Archaeologia oxoniensis

[information obtained from http://www.jjhc.info/harrisonjulia1879.htm, http://www.courseworkbank.co.uk/coursework/hursley_church_coursework_1598/ and http://www.jjhc.info/harrisonmathew1926.htm] and OLIS.

As Harrison records, his contribution was quite an active one:

The question suggested itself whether the pits opened in the year 1874 by Mr Tindale and Mr Ernest Willett were of the same remote age [as Pitt Rivers had decided for the shafts and galleries] and intended, either wholly or in part, for a similar purpose. ... I descended on a rope, down a steep slope composed of loose chalk, to a ledge about 10 feet from the bottom of Mr Willett's pit ... [Harrison, 1877: 263]

There seems to have been quite a gathering at the site that day as when Harrison emerged he found Mr Willets there, 'who had arrived in my absence for the purpose of examining the "skeleton shaft"' [Harrison, 1877: 265], and learnt from him that a mark he had found on a chalk wall, the focus of the article, had not been spotted before. He descended the pit again with Pitt Rivers to examine the mark more closely. In the course of the article, he provides the name of the foreman of Pitt Rivers' team of labourers, Guiles. [Harrison, 1877: 266]

In the discussion that ensued Pitt Rivers says that he 'cannot bring [himself] to feel the same confidence in [the marks] antiquity that [Harrison] does'. [Harrison, 1877: 269-70] He also alludes to Harrison's physical engagement with the work

Both Mr Harrison and my son ascended and descended the shaft several times without the aid of a rope, and with a facility that I could not but admire in Mr Harrison, who, though no longer young, is active; others might have done the same during the year that the shaft had remained open, for the purpose of examining the caves at the bottom, and, having done so, nothing could be more natural, as we all know, to an individual of the English race than to immortalise himself by scoring his name, especially upon any object or monument of antiquity, which is always considered most appropriate by the British public for the inscription of their autographs. [Harrison, 1877: 270]

Pitt Rivers concluded about the marks that:

I am far from dogmatising with respect to any of them; the evidence is, I think, unreliable, and my position with regard to them may be described as agnostic. I think, however, that we are much indebted to Mr Harrison for having brought the subject before us and for the able manner in which the view of their genuineness has been argued by him ... [Harrison, 1877: 271]

Harrison made a second report, later in 1877, on 'Some further discoveries at Cissbury'. Further members of the Anthropological Institute became involved, E.W. Brabrook [2] and Captain Harold Dillon [3] (both described as 'Directors of the Institute) 'were able successively to devote several days to the work' together with Harrison. Pitt Rivers meanwhile, would have been engaged on another Sussex hillfort, 'the proposed exploration at [Mount] Caburn having been put off to another year, owing to Colonel Lane Fox's pressing official duties'. [Harrison, 1877: 431] A new pit had become exposed by chalk falls, Harrison described the pit in his article and the subsequently exposed galleries. It is clear that Pitt Rivers was still seen as a lead excavator by Harrison even though he could not be present: '[A white seam on the chalk rubbish] had been presersved to the last moment in expectation of a visit from Colonel Lane Fox; but at length it became necessary to break it up in order to proceed with the excavation' to expose the cave. [Harrison, 1877: 436] Pitt Rivers, who was President at the meeting where the paper was read again contradicted some of Harrison's conclusions:

I think it is only right that, having been associated with him in some of these excavations, I should express clearly my dissent from his views ... Any discovery [of writing in the chalk on Cissbury] would create such a revolution in our views of the condition of the early inhabitants of this country in the stone age, that although we must, of course, be prepared at all times to receive new truths, we ought not lightly to accept an assumption so much at variance with all collateral evidence as would be the hypothesis that the people who made these shafts and galleries in search of flints for implements, were acquainted with writing.' [Harrison, 1877: 438-9]

Pitt Rivers preferred to see the markings as random, and formed quickly rather than meaningful and shaped. He concludes:

I wish I could feel so confident of many pre-historical deductions as I do of the fact that nothing of the nature of a written character has ever been found in Cissbury. I should be sorry, however, if any opinion of mine were to deter Mr Harrison from making further investigations into this interesting subject. [Harrison, 1877: 441]

Harrison's third account, Additional Discoveries at Cissbury, 1878

Excavations on the site did indeed continue and were obviously a major news item for the local and national archaeological community. James Park Harrison wrote a further account in 1878 in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute. He remarks that there were several issues still unresolved: the relative dates of the original excavations, and the period during which the galleries remained open and were therefore available for shelter and refuge. He describes the cave-dwelling, or chalk hut in the 'Cave Pit', which showed signs of occupancy:

When perfect, this cave would have had much the appearance of a large baking-oven ... It was excavated beneath a buttress of solid rock ... The chalk roof had partly fallen in but part remained attached to the side of the shaft when first discovered. It gave way whilst the workmen were clearing out the interior, and Guiles the foreman narrowly escaped injury from the fall of the chalk ... Over the roof, as it originally existed, there was a layer of fine whit econcrete, which protected the hut from wet and observation ... An entrance which once existed on the eastside was filled up with chalk blocks, neatly fitted together, so as to form a dry wall. And against this, on the exterior, there was a fireplace ... [Harrison, 1878: 413]

Harrison and his collaborators continued to explore the galleries, indeed in the months between this paper being read and published in 1878 futher entrances to the galleries were found. He describes each of the galleries in detail. He concluded:

On reviewing the plan of the galleries, two main points force themselves on our attention. First, the economy of space exhibited in the excavations; and secondly, the remarkable way in which the adjoining shafts and galleries interlace. ... there is little difficulty in tracing the sequence of the shafts ... [Harrison, 1878: 419]

Although the 1875 Exploration Fund 'had long been exhausted' and the season (for archaeological excavation) was getting late, Harrison carried on work, 'a sum which would pay about half the cost of clearing out shaft V having been promised by a relative'. [Harrison, 1878: 419] He describes what he found in this further excavation in the article. In a footnote he mentions help he received from Mr Rice, member of the Sussex Archaeological Society, and it is clear that the Cissbury excavations were the result of an extraordinary level of collaboration between many people. Indeed on page 426 of the article Harrison lists all the people who spent more than a day on the site, and the list is a paragraph long and contains many well known archaeologists including Flinders Petrie, Pitt Rivers etc. He also mentions that 'many residents of the neighbourhood have taken considerable interest in the work', and that a Mr Ballard had erected a tent as a temporary museum, 'which I am sorry to say was twice levelled with the ground by gales, though pitched in one of the bason-like hollows ...'. Mr Ballard was also the person who provided the workmen to do the hard labour. [Harrison, 1878: 426][4]

It seems that Pitt Rivers and Harrison seldom agreed on conclusions. Again in the discussion recorded as taking place after the paper was read, 'Major-General Lane Fox expressed his dissent from some of the views of the author's; he had examined the shafts and galleries carefully, and thought that there was no evidence of them having been inhabited ... The evidence of their being excavated by people of the Stone Age remained the same as before'. [Harrison, 1878: 428] In a postscript to the paper, dated April 1878, Harrison recorded the discovery of a skeleton in the centre of shaft VI.

George Rolleston, one of Pitt Rivers' closer friends, discussed the skeleton found in April 1878 in a paper published in 1879 in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute. Rolleston reported that having already visited Cissbury in 1875, he had been 'sufficiently interested in Mr Harrison's discovery to visit the scene of his operations on April 5, 1878. [See Rolleston illustration on this page for a view of the skeleton in situ]. Rolleston discusses the situation in which the skeleton was found, and the condition of the bones and what conclusions he could draw from them. [Rolleston, 1879] He concludes that there is some evidence that the two skeletons found in the Cissbury excavations belonged to flintworkers.

The excited conclusions that Harrison drew from his excavations, and the more measured conclusions of Pitt Rivers from the same evidence shows the excitement that many archaeologists felt at this time and the way that archaeological exploration captured the imagination of the members of the Anthropological Institute.

Artefacts from Cissbury in the PRM

There are a total of 15 stone tools, a wax model of an arrowhead, an iron chain and an iron pyrite nodule from Cissbury in the Pitt Rivers Museum, donated as part of the founding collection. Here are the accession numbers and accession book entries for the relevant artefacts. It can be seen that some of the items date from his first excavation at Cissbury in 1867-8 and some from the second period of excavation in 1875. The figures in rounded brackets are measurements:

1884.8.11 Accession Book IV entry - 1884.8.1-15 - Fire-making. Nodule of iron pyrites, probably used for making fire with flint. Cissbury Camp Sussex

1884.125.152 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.125.1-415 Neolithic implements 1884.125.145 - 205 ... Development Series - Elongated flaked plano-convex celt, white patinated with rounded edge (13 1/2) Cissbury Ap 1875 [Drawing]

1884.125.153 Long oval celt, flaked both sides, with rounded edge and butt (14 1/4) Pitt 22 Cissbury Surface 4.2.1868 [Drawing]

1884.125.159 Thick almond-shaped oval celt, flaked all over, grey patinated (11 3/4) pit 10 Cissbury Surface 28.1.1868 1st case [Drawing]

1884.125.160 Long narrow plano-convex round-edged white patinated celt, flaked all over (alveolar below) (17 1/2) Slope S of Cissbury Ballard 1875

1884.127.115 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.127.1-143 'Modern' stone etc implements Hammers Axe heads - 1884.127.107 - 143 Globular hammerstones and ?fabricators - Ball of white flint with considerable brown and buff cortex (6.7) From Pit 7 Cissbury Hill 8.10.67 [Drawing]

1884.131.19 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.131.1-60 Stone 'Implements' Cores - White patinated subcircular flint core with short flake scars over worked surface (c 8 1/2) Cissbury Pit 13 21.1.68 [Drawing]

1884.131.20 Core of elongated form, subtriangular in cross section, with 2 or 3 long parallel flake scars (12) Cissbury Pit 11 29.1.68 [Drawing]

1884.132.33 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.132.1-405 Stone Implements Flakes ... - Narrow round-pointed and based surface flake of white matt-surfaced flint pebble of marbled grey flint, one side of wider end flake (9 1/2) Cissbury [Drawing]

1884.132.51 Pointed oval-ridged calcified flake (10.4) Pitt No 9 8.10.67 Cissbury Hill [Drawing]

1884.132.52 Truncated thick-butted calcified flake with gothic arch point (8.5) Pit no 17 30.1.68 Cissbury

1884.132.53 Pointed oval calcified flake with narrow flat ridge along the back (8.7) 20.1.68 Cissbury Ditch [Drawing]

1884.132.54 Greyer flake [than 1884.132.53], one side parallel to flat ridge line the other curving (8.3) 17.9.67 Cissbury Ditch [Drawing] NB this flake has been on display in the Upper Gallery of the Museum: Case 92.A - Archaeology

1884.132.55 Narrow white ?manganese spotted flake with flat sinuous ridge (8) 17.9.67 Cissbury Ditch [Drawing]

1884.132.328 Small white patinated leaf-shaped untrimmed flake with flat butt (platform) (c 6 cm) Cissbury [Drawing]

1884.135.351 Wax model of a narrow arrowhead found inside (5.5) Cissbury Camp (3 ft) 1875 [Drawing]

1884.140.558 Iron chain with five double links. Found previously unaccessioned during the DCF 4 - 5 Court Project in 2004

1884.140.927 NEOLITHIC Round scraper made from a thick flake of light grey flint. Dated June 14.75. Found unaccessioned in the Upper Gallery in 2007.

Many archaeological artefacts that came to Oxford as part of the founding collection were not accessioned with the rest of the founding collection between 1884-1930. The reason for this is unknown. There are therefore also be pottery sherds which have not yet been located or accessioned but we know probably came to the Museum. There may also be further stone tools. There may also have been an archaeological model, though this is less certain.

Further reading

Bowden, M. 1984 [reprinted 1990] General Pitt Rivers the father of scientific archaeology Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum
Bowden, M. 1991. Pitt Rivers - The life and archaeological work of Lt. General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers DCL FRS FSA. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK.
Harrison, J. Park 1877 'On Marks Found Upon Chalk at Cissbury' Journal of the Anthropological Institute vol 6 pp 263-271
Harrison, J. Park 1877 'Report on some further discoveries at Cissbury' Journal of the Anthropological Institute vol 6 pp 430-442
Harrison, J. Park and J. Gwyn Jeffreys. 1878 'Additional discoveries at Cissbury' Journal of the Anthropological Institute vol 7 pp 412-431
[Pitt Rivers] Lane Fox, A. 1869 'An examination into the character and probable origin of the hill forts of Sussex' Archaeologia 42 pp 53-76
[Pitt Rivers] Lane Fox, A. 1876 'Excavations at Cissbury Camp, Sussex' Journal of the Anthropological Institute 5 pp 357-90
Rolleston, George. 1877 'Note on the animal remains found at Cissbury' Journal of the Anthropological Institute 6 pp 20-36
Rolleston, George. 1879 'Notes on Skeleton found at Cissbury April 1878' Journal of the Anthropological Institute 8 pp 377-89
Thompson, M.W. 1976 Catalogue of the correspondence and papers of Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt -Rivers (1827-1900) Royal Commission on Historical MSS List 76/75
Thompson, M.W. 1977. General Pitt Rivers: Evolution and Archaeology in the Nineteenth Century. Moonraker Press, Bradford-on-Avon UK


[1] Ernest Henry Willett, known as Henry, lived at Findon Place, Sussex with his wife Frances and three daughters. He was a keen archaeologist and published an account of Ancient British Coins of Sussex in 1875.

[2] E.W. Brabrook

[3] Harold Dillon, actually Harold Arthur Lee-Dillon, 17th Viscount Dillon (1844-1932). An English antiquary and authority on the history of arms and armour and medieval costume. He served in the Rifle Brigade until 1874 when he resigned and joined the Oxfordshire Militia as a Captain (hence his title). He finally retired from the Army in 1891 and succeeded his father as 17th Viscount Dillon in 1892. He served on many of the same committees and societies as Pitt Rivers. He lived at Ditchley Park, in Oxfordshire. It seems likely that Pitt Rivers was staying with him on 28 April 1868 when he collected a large number of stone tools whilst field-walking (now in the founding collection, 1884.123.128-191, 1884.123.356-371)

[4] Mr Ballard provided a tent for a temporary museum for all the findings at Cissbury and also the labourer workmen. He appears to have been Charles Ballard, the miller at Cissbury. The mill is now named after him. http://www.snowing.co.uk/sias/mills_lost.htm says: '... A directory for the years 1841-2 gives Edward Isden as miller in addition to Charles Ballard. At a date which has been given by one source as 1859 and by another as 1870, the estate including the farm and mill was acquired by Captain T. F. Wisden of the Warren. By 1890 Charles Ballard had given up the mill, devoting himself to his hobby of collecting flint implements on the Downs. His son Richard then took R over, and was there in 1890 and 1895. As with a good many other Sussex windmills, the "miller" was essentially a foreman, the actual task of grinding being performed by another person ...'

He is mentioned by Harrison in 'On marks found upon Chalk...' page 266-7

... It led, however, incidentally, to a further discovery of considerable interest, for upon showing the piece of chalk to Mr Ballard, when leaving Cissbury shortly afterwards, he told me that a number of rounded blocks had been met with in Mr Tindale’s pit and that several of them had been preserved by him and deposited at his mill-house beneath the hill. One however was in his garden at Broadwater, and this he gave me, offering to send other specimens if sufficient interest was found to attach to them. They were all, I learnt, more or less pitted with small round holes and scored with lines which Mr Ballard thought might be natural ...

There are items from him in the founding collection:

1884.123.395 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.123.1-911 Neolithic and Mesolithic Madelainean etc - Small narrow pale grey ground flint ?chisel, lenticular in cross section (7 3/4) Found by Mr Ballard nr [near] Worthing station [Drawing]