General Pitt Rivers: also known as the father of modern scientific archaeology

on Thursday, 01 July 2021. Posted in Archaeology

Chippenham Library Assistant Sue is our Local Studies Champion and she's very much looking forward to this month's Festival of Archaeology. Here's why!

Augustus Henry Lane Fox was born on April 14th, 1827. He inherited the rivers estate in the 1880s and through this he assumed the surname Pitt Rivers as well as the coat of arms. The Rushmore estate as it is better known, is situated within the boundaries of Cranbourne Chase.

Augustus Pitt Rivers
Augustus Pitt Rivers

His interest in archaeology began in the 1850s. He was one of the first archaeologists to investigate the prehistory of Wiltshire and to use antler picks, he also used flint and bone tools. He was highly methodical by the standard of the times focusing on everyday objects to understand the past, this gave a better insight into social conditions, which wasn’t usual practice at this time.

In August 1880 he began to excavate a round barrow in Cranborne Chase, a cremation was discovered with some fragments of bronze. It also contained flint implements and pieces of pot. After rebuilding the mound he planted a beech tree in memory of his friend Professor George Rolleston, he also named the barrow after his friend. The estate he inherited contained a wealth of archaeological material from the Roman and Saxon periods.

In April 1889 he started to excavate in Wansdyke in North Wiltshire. He found an iron knife, nail and fragments of Samian pottery. It is thought he stayed in Devizes during the excavation.

 Pitt Rivers depicted on the pub sign of 'The Museum' at Farnham'
Pitt Rivers depicted on the pub sign of 'The Museum' at Farnham', Dorset, near the Rushmore estate
He excavated over 40 sites and models of many of the sites were produced by craftsmen on his estate. His research and collections cover periods from the lower Palaeolithic to Roman and Medieval times. He owned 2 craniometers which was an instrument for measuring the size and shape of skulls.

His international collection of about 22,000 objects was the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford. The Museum was built in 1885. His Wessex collection is housed in Salisbury Museum.

Pitt Rivers was appointed thee very first inspector of Ancient Monuments in 1882 because of his organisational skills and experience. There is a memorial to Pitt Rivers in St. Peters Church at Tollard Royal, he died on the 4th May 1900, his wife the honourable Alice Margaret Stanley who he married on the 3rd February 1853 is buried in the churchyard. They had 9 children who reached adulthood.

The Pitt Rivers Memorial in St. Peter's Church, Tollard Royal
The Pitt Rivers Memorial in St. Peter's Church, Tollard Royal

Sue, Chippenham Library

Further reading via your local library and the Wiltshire and Swindon History Centre

Bowden, Mark (1991). Pitt Rivers : the life and archaeological work of Lieutenant-General Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers, DCL, FRS, FSA. Ref. TOL.921
Mark, Bowden and Green, Adrian (2017). General Pitt-Rivers : Founding Father of Modern Archaeology. Ref. XPI.921 (available to view at the Wiltshire & Swindon History Centre)
Cranstone, B. A. L. (1984). The General's gift : a celebration of the Pitt Rivers Museum centenary 1884-1984. Ref. 069.93


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