Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Pitt Rivers in Oxfordshire

Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers. 1998.271.66

Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers. 1998.271.66

Flints from Oxfordshire and the Isle of Thanet, Journal of the Ethnological Society 1869

Flints from Oxfordshire and the Isle of Thanet, Journal of the Ethnological Society 1869

Illustrations from Pitt Rivers' paper in the Journal of the Ethnological Society

Illustrations from Pitt Rivers' paper in the Journal of the Ethnological Society

Pitt Rivers had no known links with Oxfordshire, although he did stay north of Oxford at Ditchley Park, with Harold Dillon [see on].

Field-walking in Ditchley, Oxfordshire, April 1868

It seems likely that Pitt Rivers was staying with Harold Dillon 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)

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 was also Pitt Rivers' wife's uncle.

Dillon lived at his ancestral home, Ditchley Park, in Oxfordshire.

Fieldwalking to discover new monuments or surface finds was important to Pitt Rivers. He explained the benefits of fieldwalking, as he had done when surveying the hillforts

As an old sportsman I commend flint hunting to all anthropologists who have not practised it. As a healthy exercise it is fully entitled to a place amongst field sports, and in its objects it is far higher, for while the sportsman pushes forward to be in at the dath, the goal of the flint hunter is to be in at the birth of a fresh discovery. My discovery of this flint factory [at Cissbury], if it was but a little one, was nevertheless a birth, introduced by such pains as a month of continuous walking over the Sussex downs might entitle me to, and for which I considered it an ample reward. During that month I examined and measured fifteen camps, walked over a considerable area of cultivated ground, and came to the conclusion that the majority of the camps are associated in an especial manner with the existence of flint flakes on the surfface in the interior of them. [Pitt Rivers 1876: 359]

As Bowden comments:

Collection of artefacts from the surface of ploughed fields was little reported that it may have been a common activity amongst mid-nineteenth century antiquarians. That [Pitt Rivers] took surface collections very seriously is demonstrated by his Stonehenge report and his published report on the results of artefact collection in Oxfordshire and Kent appears to be a new departure in British archaeology. Unfortunately he did not publish all his endeavours in this aspect of field archaeology. [1991: 94]

Pitt Rivers published his finds at Ditchley in an article for the Ethnological Society titled 'On some flint implements found associated with Roman remains in Oxfordshire and the Isle of Thanet'. In the article he comments:

In April, 1868, I examined a great part of the surface of the ground which lies between Kiddington, Charlbury and Woodstock, in Oxfordshire, ... The most noticeable feature of antiquity belonging to this country is the great Dyke, called the Devil's or Grimes Dyke, which forms the north-western, northern, and eastern boundary of the tract of country above-mentioned ... Much of it has been destroyed by cultivation, but its former trace has been described ... and sufficient still remains to shew clearly the original intention of the work. [1869: 2]

After surveying Callow Hill (see on) he moved to Devil's Pool:

I next examined one of the Roman sites on Lord Dillon's property, in the neighbourhood of Devil's Pool. Having removed the soil and the fragments of pottery which strewed the surface, I came upon part of a Roman floor ... Immediately to the north, adjoining this structure, about an acre of ground was covered with the débris of flint manufacture, samples of which were exhibited to the Society. They consist of numerous small flakes, several small balls, similar to that found upon Callow Hill, the object of which is doubtful, but which appear to be something more than mere nuclei from which the flakes have been struck off; several small cores; one worked flint, two inches in length, and about half-an-inch thick, rounded, and shewing abrasion at the ends, similar in form to flints which are found in the Yorkshire Wolds and elsewhere, and which are believed to have been used as tools in the process of flaking and fabricating the flints; two fragments of scrapers ... and several irregularly formed flints chipped to a bevel on one side; one leaf-shaped arrow-head ... and one well-formed barbed arrow-head, the former of which was an inch, and the latter about half-an-inch in length, both carefully chipped and worked on all sides. [1869: 5]

Pitt Rivers believed that such implements had not been found in this part of Oxfordshire before. [1869: 5]

The same considerations that led me to associate the flints found upon Callow Hill with the Roman pottery there, also led me to connect the flints found near the Devil's Pool with the Roman pavement; for here, as at Callow Hill, I examined a considerable tract of country to the north, west, and south of the area which is contiguous to the pavement, without discovering a single flint. I think, therefore, that we may either suppose the whole to have belonged to the Romanised British; or if the pavement is regarded as part of a Roman villa, we may, perhaps, be alowed to conjecture that the flints ... may mark the residences of British slaves, who dwelt in huts of wicker, or some other perishable material, in the immediate vicinity of their master's house.' [1869: 5-6]

Bowden criticises the Ditchley work by Pitt Rivers:

[Pitt Rivers] made no attempt to locate any of the findspots or excavation trenches accurately in this report and he published no maps or plans. More significantly he did not, by written description or illustration, record the tessellated floor at Devil's Pool. This is in striking contrast with much of his later work and shows how little he appreciated the need for precision in recording at this time. On the other hand these two pieces of fieldwork (Ditchley and Kent) do illustrate two increasingly important aspects of [his] work, his wish to create a more solid chronology for British prehistory and the Romano-British period through typology, the only means available to him, and his realisation of the crucial significance of the apparently mundane in the study of archaeology. [Bowden, 1991: 72-3]

Artefacts from Ditchley in the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum

There are a total of 75 stone tools and flakes in the founding collection found by Pitt Rivers when fieldwalking in April 1868:1884.123.128-147 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.123.1-911 Neolithic and Mesolithic Madelainean etc - Glass-topped box containing 2 boards of small surface flakes and flaked implements 28.4.68 comprising of points ?saws discoidal and end scrapers and Tarté scraper and fabricator and small cores (3 lacunae). Board A 20 specimens (2 lacunae) ALF
1884.123.148-60 Glass-topped box containing 2 boards of small surface flakes and flaked implements 28.4.68 comprising points ?saws discoidal and end scrapers and Tarté scraper and fabricator and small cores (3 lacunae). Board A 13 specimens (1 lacuna) ALF
1884.123.161-191 Glass-topped box containing 31 flakes scrapers points saws etc Surface Dytchley [sic]. It originally contained some arrowheads which have been removed ALF
1884.123.356 1884.123.356-? all white patinated ... - Flaked nodule, elongated suboval form ?1868 ALF [Drawing]
1884.123.357-8 Flaked nodules Ditchley Oxon ?1868 ALF [Drawing]
1884.123.359 Small pear-shaped pebble, wider end and base flaked off to form a plano-convex scraper (5 1/2) Devil's Pool Ditchley Oxon 12.9.68 ALF [Drawing]
1884.123.360 Plano-convex scraper with curved worked edge, triangular in cross section (3 1/4) Devil's Pool 12.9.68 ALF [Drawing]
1884.123.361 Discoidal plano-convex flake scraper, flaked knob above rounded end (3 1/2) Devil's Pool 12.9.68 ALF [Drawing]
1884.123.362 Oval plano-convex flake scraper, worked all round to butt, fragment of cortex on top (3 1/4) Devil's Pool 12.9.68 ALF [Drawing]
1884.123.363 Discoidal flake flake [sic] scraper, worked all round to fractured butt (2 1/2) 12.9.68 ALF [Drawing]
1884.123.369 Small lozenge-shaped plano-convex ?arrow head, edges worked (2 3/4) 1868 [Drawing]
1884.123.370 Triangular arrow head, tang barbs and point broken (c 2 1/4) 1868 [Drawing]
1884.123.371 Similar small arrowhead [to 1884.123.370], one barb intact, point damaged (1 3/4) 1868 [Drawing]

Note that there are other items from Callow Hill, Stonesfield which might have been collected at the same time.

Callow Hill (Stonesfield)

Some of the following artefacts were collected at same time as Fieldwalking at Ditchley in April 1868 when he was probably staying at Ditchley Park, others on 9 January 1869, it is not known what Pitt Rivers was doing in Oxfordshire at that time. He refers to both occasions in his paper 'On some flint implements found associated with Roman remains in Oxfordshire and the Isle of Thanet' for the Journal of the Ethnological Society:

'On Callow HIll there are remains of a rectangular enclosure thickly strewn with Roman tiles and pottery, amongst which I picked up a piece of Samian pottery representing in relief a satyr and two women dancing, a stone spindle whorl, several fragments of scored tile, and with them five flints, consisting of two flakes shewing the bulb of percussion on the flat side, one bal about an inch in diameter chipped all round, and two well-formed scrapers ... Now, in order to appreciate the value of the evidence afforded by these flints, it must be understood that the district in question, forming part of the great oolite formation, contains no flints. The nearest point from which flints could be obtained is from the chalk country, nineteen miles to the south. ... I examined carefully every yard of the surface of several fields adjoining the Roman structure upon Callow Hill ... but I nowhere discovered the smallest fragment of flint, with the exception of the implements above-mentioned, mixed with innumerable fragments of Roman pottery in this place. [1869: 4]

In a footnote a page earlier he had said:

Since writing the above, I have examined the course of another dyke, of smaller dimensions, which runs from the neighbourhood of Callow Hill, straight up to ... Dytchley Park ... [1869: 3]

This was presumably the second visit to Dytchley or Ditchley (as it is now spelt) Park in 1869.

Artefacts from Callow Hill in the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum

1. 1884.104.75 Accession Book V entry - 1884.104.1-105 Distaffs Spindles etc 1884.104.24-104 Whorls - Small grindstone-shaped whorl of yellow ?quartzose sandstone Callowhill Oxfordshire ?PR [sic]
2. 1884.123.364 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.123.1-911 Neolithic and Mesolithic Madelainean etc - white patinated - Rough cuboidal nodule Callow Hill Oxon ALF Surface [Drawing]
1884.123.365 white patinated - Plano-convex end scraper with ovate alveolar base, triangular cross section (4 1/2 (base)) Callow Hill Oxon ALF 9.1.69 [Drawing]
1884.123.366 white patinated - Plano-convex end scraper, base suboblong with rounded ends, ?designed for a scraper (5 1/4) Callow Hill Oxon ALF 20.4.68 [Drawing]
1884.123.367 white patinated - Flate [sic - flat] plano-convex flake end scraper with rounded expanded end (bulb near butt on base) (5 1/4) Callow Hill Oxon ALF 9.1.69 [Drawing]
1884.123.368 white patinated - Subpentangular discoidal flake with a natural 'fork' at one end edge, not worked (5 1/4) Callow Hill Oxon ALF 20.4.68 [Drawing]
1884.140.11-20 Added Accession Book Entry - 10 sherds of Roman pottery collected from Callow Hill c1868 by ALF [Pitt Rivers]. All objects found unentered by Simon Thorpe (Postgraduate student in field archaeology, Dept of Continuing Education, 1996) in June 1996

Dorchester Dykes, Oxfordshire, 1870

On 21 June 1870 Pitt Rivers (then Lane Fox) read a short paper to the Ethnological Society about the hillfort in the Sinodun Hills and the earthworks on the north bank of the River Thames at Dorchester. The hillfort was one of the 'two conspicuous hills, each of which is topped with a clump of trees, known as the Wittenham Clumps'. [Pitt Rivers, 1870: 412] Pitt Rivers describes the camp:

It commands an extensive view of the country for miles around; but the interior of the camp is itself commanded within 150 yards by the adjoining hill to the north-west. It is of irregular oval form, about 400 paces across from S.E. to N.W. The defences consist of a ditch, about five paces wide at the bottom, with a rampart on both sides ... All these are characteristic of a British earthwork. I picked up from the interior a fragment of a polished celt and a sea-shore quartzite pebble rubbed to an edge at one end. ... [Pitt Rivers, 1870: 412]

Pitt Rivers was concerned that the Dykes would be flattened as the area was ploughed, 'passing over the Thames, to the north side, we come to the Dykes, the threatened destruction of which is reported in the newspapers'. [Pitt Rivers, 1870: 413] The relevant articles are later given as Extracts from the 'Saturday Review' and 'Pall Mall Gazette' in 'Notes and Queries'. He described them as consisting of:

a nearly straight line of intrenchments, about 900 yards in length, and composed of double banks and ditches, which cuts off a promontory formed by a bend of the river, and encloses an area of about three-quarters of a mile in length by a quarter of a mile in breadth. The principal ditch, about 57 feet in width, is situated between the two banks. There is a smaller ditch on the outer or northern side. [Pitt Rivers, 1870: 413]

Bowden feels that it is unclear whether Pitt Rivers himself actually carried out excavations in the area:

He had collected material from the Dykes but it is not clear whether he had undertaken any excavations. He mentions a 'fresh cutting' through the northern rampart but does not specify whether this was an archaeological investigation or part of the destructive works. St George Gray certainly believed that Fox had excavated the Dykes himself. [Bowden, 1991: 76]

It is clear that Pitt Rivers did collect in the area:

On carefully searching the ground which had been excavated from the banks on the left flank, and the cultivated ground in the interior of the camp, I found abundant evidence of the fabrication of flint implements [a number of cores, flakes and chips from this spot were exhibited to the Society]; but I did not succeed in finding any flint tool, with the exception of one fragment of a well-chipped spear-head. I also found on the dykes several pieces of pottery of undoubtedly British production, and a fragment of wheel-made pottery of later date. [Pitt Rivers, 1870: 414]

Pitt Rivers' paper mentions the local vicar, Reverend James Charles Clutterbuck (1801-1885), who was the vicar of Long Wittenham for fifty-five years and Rural Dean of Abingdon and a donor to the Pitt Rivers Museum, via the founding collection and the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. He was a noted antiquarian, and geologist, being especially interested in hydro-geology; he served on the Board of the Thames Conservancy. Clutterbuck believed that the Thames still ran in its original course in the area. Pitt Rivers disagreed, 'there is, I think, evidence that the river has slightly altered its course since the dykes were erected'. [Pitt Rivers, 1870: 414]

Pitt Rivers decided that the earthworks were 'British' rather than Roman:

Viewing the position of the two works, and the position of the ancient ford between them, it may safely be assumed that they were connected in the defence of this locality, and were the work of the same people. The ancient Britons never constructed their camps upon low ground. Sinodun HIll was no doubt the principal stronghold; and the Dorchester dykes on the low ground to the north of the river were thrown up to cover the passage of the river at the ford, and secure a communication with the left bank. [Pitt Rivers, 1870: 415]

Pitt Rivers visited the landowner, Mr Latham, personally and persuade him to cease levelling for the moment. He recorded that 'about 200 yards of the left bank of the Dorchester dykes have now been levelled, or rather reduced for cultivation'. [Pitt Rivers, 1870: 415] This is one of the instances of Pitt Rivers acting to try and save archaeological monuments and experiences such as this must have led to his accepting the first appointment as Inspector of Ancient Monuments from January 1883.

Artefacts from the Dorchester Dykes and Wittenham Clumps:

1884.41.178-182 Accession Book IV entry - 1884.41.1-193 - Miscellaneous pottery - mostly 'duplicates' - Fragments of ancient British pottery from Dorchester Dykes Oxon
1884.123.29 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.123.1-911 Neolithic and Mesolithic Madelainean etc - Very small flat-bottomed flint ?core, used as scraper (2 1/2) Dorchester Dykes Oxon [Drawing]
1884.123.30 Small curved flake (3 3/4) Dorchester Dykes Oxon [Drawing]
1884.123.31 Suboval white flake (broken edge?) with large bulb and 2 flake scars (4 3/4) Dorchester Dykes Oxon [Drawing]
1884.123.32 Grey flake, hollow on undersurface bulb at point broken (15 1/3) Dorchester Dykes Oxon [Drawing]
1884.123.33 Small subcircular flake ?scraper, worked along curved edge (c 3) Dorchester Dykes Oxon [Drawing]
1884.123.372 bluish white patination Sept 9th 1869 ALF Surface - Roughly flaked suboval ?side scraper, convex on one side and roughly carinated on the other (c 4 3/4) [Drawing]
1884.123.373 Sept 9th 1869 ALF Surface - Plano-convex flake with carinated top, triangular in cross section, dark grey (5) [Drawing]
1884.123.374 Sept 9th 1869 ALF Surface - Pear shaped plano-convex flake implement with curve of butt and point worked, ?awl and scraper, dark grey (6)[Drawing]
1884.123.375 Sept 9th 1869 ALF Surface - Small dark grey lunated flake scraper, one point replaced by straight edge worked on convex side, the other edge flat (3)[Drawing]
1884.123.376 bluish white patination Sept 9th 1869 ALF Surface - Mitre-shaped ?knife blade or arrowhead, convex sides carefully worked (one ?fractured), base straight (4) [Drawing]
1884.123.377 Brownish grey lunate scraper, one side damaged otherwise worked all round on a bevel (4 3/4) [Drawing]
1884.123.378 bluish white patination Long flake, rounded at one end and worked to a ?point (broken) at the other (5 1/2) [Drawing]
1884.123.379 white patinated Subtriangular plano-convex side scraper and ?point (broken) worked on one side (5 3/4) [Drawing]
1884.123.380 white patinated Narrow curved carinated small plano-convex flake implement, ?awl (point broken) (5 1/4) (signs of working locally in concavity and on convex side near point) [Drawing]
1884.123.385 Roughly square shallow small block with approximately straight edges and flat faces with cortex on them (Sides 3.2, 2.8, 3, 3.5 x 1[Drawing] 1423
1884.123.386 Similar [to 1884.123.385] subrectangular plate, cortex on one side only, one edge irregular, one short and curved (3 1/2 cm)[Drawing]
1884.123.387 Small white patinated subrectangular block, one (short) end, slanting face long sides curves, one face flat, the other roughly pyramidal with 4 subtriangular faces (c 3 1/4 cm) [Drawing]
1884.123.388 Very small dark translucent flake with cap of cortex at curved end (2.6 cm) [Drawing]

Items that have not yet been accessioned but are likely to be in the Pitt Rivers Museum:

Delivery Catalogue II entry - Stone implements various - 2 large trays contg ... flints Dorchester Dykes in tray 1423 Case 116 356 357

Ethnographic objects from Oxfordshire

Note that there are no artefacts specifically categorised as ethnographic from Oxfordshire in the Pitt Rivers founding collection.

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.
[Pitt Rivers] Lane Fox, A. 'On some flint implements found associated with Roman remains in Oxfordshire and the Isle of Thanet' Journal of the Ethnological Society vol. 1 no. 1 (1869) pp.1-12
[Pitt Rivers] Lane Fox, A. 'On the Threatened Destruction of the British Earthworks near Dorchester, Oxfordshire' The Journal of the Ethnological Society of London (1869-1870), Vol. 2, No. 4 (1870), pp. 412-416
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