Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Pitt Rivers and Sussex

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers. 1998.271.66

Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers. 1998.271.66

Unlike London and Yorkshire, Pitt Rivers never lived in Sussex; but he did conduct several excavations there and the Pitt Rivers Museum has a good deal of archaeological material donated by him in 1884 from these counties.

Administrative arrangements for Sussex

Sussex is no longer a single entity. It was the historic county, but since 1888 it has been divided into two separate counties, East and West Sussex. The historic county was bounded by Surrey in the north, Kent in the east and Hampshire in the west and its southern border was the English Channel. Sussex remained as the ceremonial county until 1974 when it was replaced with one each for East and West Sussex. Rather than looking at Pitt Rivers and his relationship to the counties as they are today we will look at the whole of historic Sussex, as he knew it, when he worked there in the 1870s.

Pitt Rivers links to Sussex

It is not clear why Pitt Rivers worked several times in Sussex as he does not appear to have had a family connection to the area, nor was it particularly close by any of his houses. He first worked there in 1867, shortly after his work on the Yorkshire Wolds with Canon Greenwell.

Pitt Rivers Excavations in Sussex 1867-1878

Hillforts in 1867

As Bowden explains it, in July 1867 Pitt Rivers (or Lane Fox as he was then) took half pay and decided to make an extended study of the hillforts of Sussex in September 1867:

The results of this survey were published in a substantial paper in Archaeologia (1869) the first of a series of papers by him in that journal on early fortifications. He claimed to have examined nearly all the hillforts between Beachy Head and Chichester while staying in Brighton ... and recording them by 'rough sketches from measurements taken on the spot, either by pacing, or by means of a tape and pocket level'. This is the first description of any type that we have of Fox's field surveying techniques. ... Fox had three principal concerns; to show that they were defensive works, that they were pre-Roman, and that they were isolated forts and not part of a system of defence. [Bowden, 1991: 67]

Pitt Rivers visited the Trundle (now near Goodwood Race-course), Highdown, Cissbury, Chanctonbury, Devil's Dyke, Wolstonbury, Ditchling Beacon, Hollingbury, Whitehawk, Ranscombe Camp, and Mount Caburn and Seaford (this list is from west to east).

Further information about this survey and the artefacts found on these sites (excluding ones separately described below)

Cissbury September 1867 and January 1868

Cissbury Ring is an Iron Age hill fort three miles north of Worthing, now owned by the National Trust. 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 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.

Further information about the excavations at Cissbury and the artefacts from there

Dyke Road or Black Burgh Tumulus 1872

Pitt Rivers took advantage of attending the British Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Brighton in 1872 to open a tumulus beside the road from Brighton to the Devil's Dyke. Pitt Rivers describes his methodology:

After taking a careful section with a spirit-level, ... I commenced a trench 20 feet wide near the foot of the mound at its southern extremity, digging down until the hard chalk floor was reached ... being careful to lay bare the chalk floor everywhere. [Pitt Rivers, 1872: 280]

Eventually he found a great number of flint flakes

'all over the top of the tumulus, just beneath the turf ... I counted as many as 223 on the first day, and with them, several well-formed scrapers.' [Pitt Rivers, 1872: 281]

Further information about this excavation and the artefacts from it

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] 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. He also engaged in experimental archaeology. [Bowden, 1991: 77-81]

Further information about the excavations at Cissbury and the artefacts from there

Seaford, 1876

He carried out some rescue archaeology in 1876 believing that the Seaford Camp was to be partially destroyed to make sea-defences. He had previously assumed that the camp was Roman, as local tradition believed it to be.

Further information about the excavations at Seaford and the artefacts from them

Mount Caburn and Ranscombe Camp, September-October 1877, July 1878

This hillfort overlooks Lewes, in East Sussex. Bowden considered it to be Pitt Rivers' best-known early excavation. [Bowden, 1991: 85] He also explored the ramparts of Ranscombe Camp, close by. This was the first site that Pitt Rivers published a Relic Table, which was 'a tabulated record of every feature excavated, giving the date of excavation, artefacts recovered and dimensions', Bowden considers these tables to be the 'pinnacle of the General's 'scientific' recording techniques'. [Bowden, 1991: 85]

Further information from these excavations and the artefacts found there

Ethnographic objects from Sussex

There are only 3 artefacts specifically categorised as ethnographic in the Pitt Rivers' founding collection from Sussex:

1884.99.24 Accession Book V entry - 1884.99.1 - 48 Currency - Small coin found at Sedlescombe Jas Weller 1876

1884.116.76 Accession Book V entry - 1884.116.1 - 121 Lamps (ancient) - Rush light clip and candlestick combined, of iron in turned block. Old house at Bramber Sussex (298)
Detailed lamp card catalogue entry - Box 1 Lamps Series A-E Group: B Division: D Class: Rush and dip holder Number: B30 Description: Rush-light clip and candlestick combined, made of iron and inserted in a lathe-turned block of wood. The nipper for the rushlights are held firmly by the weight of the curved arm at the end of which is a socket for candles. Holding candle and rush-light. The wood stand is chipped in two places at the edge and is much worm eaten. Locality: From an old house in Bramber Sussex How Acquired: Pitt-Rivers [sic] coll. 3145 29

1884.137.173 Added Accession Book VI entry - 1884.137.1 - 172 Mount Caburn (= The Caburn) nr Lewes Sussex [for further information see 1884.137.1] - Bronze coin weight for Portuguese dobra 36/- dated 1747 (John V) found among the material from Mt Caburn

[Note the above artefact might not even be connected to Sussex as it was only found with some artefacts from Mount Caburn, it might have been obtained from anywhere.]

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. 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
[Pitt Rivers] Lane Fox, A. 1877 'Opening of the Dyke Road, or Black Burgh Tumulus, Near Brighton, in 1872' The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Vol. 6, (1877), pp. 280-287
Pitt Rivers] Lane Fox, A. 1877 'Excavations in the Camp and Tumulus at Seaford, Sussex' Journal of the Anthropological Institute 6 pp 287-99
Pitt Rivers] Lane Fox, A. 1881 'Excavations at Mount Caburn camp, near Lewes, conducted in 1877 and 1878' Archaeologia 46 pp 423-95
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