Front and back of one of Pitt-Rivers tokens 1971.30.5

This website does not concern itself with the detail of the excavations Pitt-Rivers carried out on his Cranborne Chase estate around Rushmore from 1880. Apart from any other consideration, the vast majority of the finds from these excavations are not listed in the catalogue of his second collection, held by Cambridge University Library. However, Pitt-Rivers published four extensive accounts of these excavations and the finds, and in the introduction to these volumes he makes some more general points which are of interest. The preface for the first volume is the most interesting of all as it sets the scene for his archaeological endeavours on his estate.

Pitt-Rivers, A.H.L.F. 1887. Excavations in Cranborne Chase near Rushmore on the borders of Dorset and Wiltshirevol I Rushmore privately printed [pp.xi-xix]


In issuing the first volume of records of my excavations near Rushmore, which is intended, if I live, to be followed by others of the same kind, it may be desirable to say something of the circumstances under which they were undertaken, and of the manner in which they have been executed; to state how I came to be connected with the particular district in which the excavations have been made; and to explain more especially the reason for my change of name to Pitt Rivers instead of Lane Fox, under which latter designation I am perhaps better known to anthropologists, having made some previous contributions to anthropological science.

I inherited the Rivers estaste in the year 1880, in accordance with the will of my great uncle, the second Lord Rivers, and by descent from my grandmother, who was his sister, and daughter of the first lord. ... No consideration of personal discomfort ought, in my judgment, to be allowed to sever old connections when they are legitimately and reasonably maintained in a direct line of family descent, and in conformity with established precedents. In my own case the only inconvenience I can be said to have suffered by it has been the severance of my name from previous publications of the same character as the present, which had obtained for me the honour of being elected a fellow of the Royal Society.

Having retired from active service on account of ill-health, and being incapable of strong physical exercise, I determined to devote the remaining portion of my life chiefly to an examination of the antiquities on my own property. Of these there were a considerable number, especially near Rushmore, consisting of Romano-British Villages, Tumuli, and other vestiges of the bronze and stone age, most of which were untouched and had been well preserved.

... I had an ample harvest before me, and with the particular tastes that I had cultivated, it almost seemed to me as if some unseen hand had trained me up to be the possessor of such a property, which, up to within a short time of my inheriting it, I had but little reason to expect. I at once set about organising such a staff of assistants as would enable me to complete the examination of the antiquities on the property within a reasonable time, and to do it with all the thoroughness which I had come to consider necessary for archaeological investigations.

A permanent residence in the district to be explored is almost necessary for a satisfactory investigation of its ancient remains, and it is needless to say that ownership adds greatly to the power of carrying out explorations thoroughly, for although I have found my neighbours at all times most obliging in giving me permission to dig, it requires some assurance so far to trespass on a friend's kindness as to sit down and besiege a place on another man's property more than a year, which is not at all long a time to spend in the excavation of a British village.

Whilst living at Kensington I had carefully examined the drift gravels near Acton and Ealing, and by constantly watching the excavations for buildings made at no great distance from my place of abode, I had been able to make the first carefully recorded discovery of palaeolithic implements in association with the remains of extinct animals that had been made in the Thames Valley near London up to that time. ... At Thebes, in Egypt, I had discovered palaeolithic implements in the gravels of the Nile Valley, embedded in them in the sides of the Egyptian tombs, a discovery the interest of which consisted in finding these implements for the first time in situ. But anthropology has no pet periods, all ages have afforded materials of almost equal value for the history of the human race, and in the region around Rushmore my attention has been drawn more especially to the Romanised Britons, as being the race for whose study the district appears capable of affording the greatest facilities.

... This district on this account is a peculiar one, and its antiquities are worthy of special attention.

It will, perhaps, be thought by some that I have recorded the excavations of this village and the finds that have been made in it with unnecessary fulness, and I am aware that I have done it in greater detail than has been customary, but my experience as an excavator has led me to think that investigations of this nature are not generally sufficiently searching, and that much valuable evidence is lost by omitting to record these carefully. ...

Excavators, as a rule, record only those things which appear to them important at the time, but fresh problems in Archaeology and Anthropology are constantly arising, and it can hardly fail to have escaped the notice of anthropologists, especially those who, like myself, have been concerned with the morphology of art, that, on turning back to old accounts in search of evidence, the points which would have been most valuable have been passed over from being thought uninteresting at the time. Every detail should, therefore, be recorded in the manner most conducive to facility of reference, and it ought at all times to be the chief object of an excavator to reduce his own personal equation to a minimum.

I have endeavoured to record the results of these excavations in such a way that the whole of the evidence may be available for those who are concerned to go into it, whilst those who confine themselves to an examination of the plates will find each object carefully described on the adjoining page.

... I have placed all the relics found in the ancient villages and tumuli in a Museum near the village of Farnham, Dorset, where each object is carefully ticketed and described. Accurate models have been made of the villages and models on a larger scale of the particular finds. ... The Museum also includes other objects of husbandry and peasant handicraft, calculated to draw the interest of a purely rural population ... and I am glad to say the interest it has attracted amongst the working men of the neighbourhood has exceeded my utmost expectations. ...

All the villages and tumuli, after being excavated, have been restored and turfed over, leaving sufficient indication to mark the various parts discovered in the villages, and at the bottom of the principal excavations I have placed the medallet drawn and described in the adjoining woodcut, to show future explorers that I have been there.

It only remains to say something of the way in which the work has been carried out. I saw clearly that it was more than I could accomplish without assistance in the brief space of time allotted to me at my period of life. I therefore determined to organise a regular staff of assistants, and to train them in their respective functions after establishing a proper division of work. It was necessary they should all have some capacity for drawing in order that the relics discovered might be sketched as soon as found ... Surveying I was able to teach them myself, having always been fond of field sketching as a soldier. ...

Reserving, therefore, to my share of the work the entire supervision of everything, the description and arrangement of the plates, the writing of the record ... [etc] ... I have, after some changes and preliminary trials, been able to engage the following assistants with suitable salaries, viz. :-

Assistant .. .. Mr F. James

Sub-Assistants .. .. Mr W.S. Tomkin

Mr F.W. Reader

... Mr Tomkin has executed nearly all the drawings and plates ... Mr Reader, in addition to his work as a draughtsman, has made some excellent models for my museum above-mentioned, and has spent much time in ticketing and arranging the specimens. ...

A. Pitt Rivers
Rushmore, Salisbury
June 13th, 1887

Bibliography for this article

Pitt-Rivers, A.H.L.F. 1887. Excavations in Cranborne Chase near Rushmore on the borders of Dorset and Wiltshire vol I Rushmore privately printed

Pitt-Rivers, A.H.L.F. 1888. Excavations in Barrows near Rushmore. Excavations in the Romano-British village Rotherly. Excavations in Cranborne Chase vol II Rushmore Privately printed

Pitt-Rivers, A.H.L.F. 1892 Excavations in Bokerley Dyke and Wansdyke Dorset and Wilts 1888-91 vol III of Cranborne Chase Rushmore privately printed

Pitt-Rivers, A.H. Lane Fox 1898 Excavations in Cranborne Chase. vol IV Rushmore Privately printed

AP, June 2010

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