Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Dyke Road or Black Burgh Tumulus 1872

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

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. The author has not been able to firmly identify which tumulus this is, as it would appear it is no longer known by the name Black Burgh.[1] Pitt Rivers describes it as being:

about a mile from the Devil's Dyke, and about fifty yards to the west of the road, a short way to the north of the spot where it branches off from the road to Saddlescome. ... The mound now to be described was not very conspicuous from the road, to which fact it probably owed its preservation; but was nevertheless known to the peasantry of the neighbourhood from time immemorial as the Black Burgh. [Pitt Rivers, 1872: 280]

He was given permission to dig up the tumulus by the land owner, he subsequently altered the course of the excavation, refusing Pitt Rivers permission to do further excavation to prevent larger quantities of chalk from being thrown up. [Pitt Rivers 1872: 286] Pitt Rivers describes his methodology:

After taking a careful section with a spirit-level, in a line running north and south through the centre ... in order that the shape of the mound before I touched it may be recorded, 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, at about a foot and a half beneath the surface and then northward towards the centre, being careful to lay bare the chalk floor everywhere. [Pitt Rivers, 1872: 280]

Although, to modern eyes, it appears from this account that Pitt Rivers undertook the hard labour involved in this excavation, it is clear from his article about it, that (as usual) he engaged workmen to do the manual work. Bowden comments that Pitt Rivers had never bothered to record the 'surface morphology of a monument before excavation' before, but this was to become increasingly important to him. After the excavation, Pitt Rivers caused a wooden three-dimensional model of the excavation to be created (now in the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum), this may have been the first such model that was made for Pitt Rivers. [Bowden, 1991: 76]

One of the first things Pitt Rivers discovered was a 'vertical cylindrical hole in the chalk floor'. [Pitt Rivers, 1872: 280-1] 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]

As the men approached the centre, a horizontal layer of charcoal was found, about two inches thick, 'extending over the whole of the centre to a distance of 20 feet from it'. [Pitt Rivers, 1872: 281] A Mr Wonfor, of Brighton, examined this deposit for Pitt Rivers and pronounced it to be composed of oak.

The workmen came across a grave, whilst digging onwards towards the centre, with a skeleton lying on the bottom, crushed by the earth that had been above it. The skeleton was so badly damanged very little could be removed apart from part of the pelvis and some of the leg bones. Professor Flower, of the Royal College of Surgeons, examined them and said there were of a female, about 5 feet 6 inches tall. She was buried with 'a bronze knife-dagger, a bronze pin, an earthen cup or food vessel, and a necklace of shale beads'. [Pitt Rivers, 1872: 282] He also found pottery sherds nearby that did not seem to be associated with the body.

Pitt Rivers then tried to imagine what had happened

The history of the interments may therefore have been as follows: An oblong grave ... was dug ... and the body put in, crouched up, on its left side, with the food vessel, knife and ornaments belonging to the deceased. It was then filled up, and some additional earth added over the top. A fire was then lighted over the grave but there is no evidence here, as so frequently happens elsewhere, of a funeral feast. The mound was then completed to its full height, and flint flakes and a few scrapers and other implements thrown over the surface of the tumulus. Subsequently a secondary interment was made in the centre ... [Pitt Rivers, 1872: 285-6]

Pitt Rivers concludes his report to the Anthropological Institute:

I trust that the minute details of measurement that I have given will not be found very tedious. It must be remembered that comparatively few of these barrows are now left to be explored, and upon those who dig into them devolves the duty of recording carefully all that they find. In our present state of ignorance concerning them we cannot tell upon what points of detail theories in after ages may be made to turn. We know how much we could have wished for more detailed accounts from our predecessors. If we must err, therefore, it is well that it should be on the side of accuracy. [Pitt Rivers, 1872: 286]

Artefacts from this site in the Pitt Rivers Museum

There are a total of 47 artefacts from this site in the Museum's collections. All of them are stone tools. The entries in the accession book are written in this form:

Accession Book VI entry - 1884.123.1 - 911 Neolithic and Mesolithic Madelainean etc - 1884.123.68 - 113 Flakes from filling of the Dyke Road ('Black Burgh') tumulus nr Brighton Aug 1872 v JAI VI p187 - [object description]
Delivery Catalogue II entry - Miscellaneous Tray containing 50 pieces [note that number has not been matched] of flint (Dyke Road Tumulus) 64/ 8386 7 Case 279 280
'Green book' entry - South Kensington Receipts, 4 February 1881 - Objects  ... the contents of two cases acknowledged to you on 1 October 1878 [p71 of green book] - 1 tray of flint implements
[Geographical] Card Catalogue Entry - [English archaeology] Sussex Black Burgh Tm [?tumulus] Neolithic - exactly as Accession Book

Here are the specific accession numbers and object descriptions:

1884.123.68-73 Small narrow thin flakes ?with strips of cortex at end or side, grey flint

1884.123.74-76 Larger flakes [than 1884.123.68-73], thin with bevelled sides

1884.123.77 Subrectangular flake, thick hinge fracture, ?cortex along end, ?lateral cavity

1884.123.78-81 Subrectangular flakes, thin ?cortex along end, ?lateral cavity

1884.123.82 Small suboval flake (no surface scars), both bulb and hinge fracture at respective ends

1884.123.83-85 Thin small broad flake with cortex strip along an edge, concave on antibulb [sic?] side over bulb

1884.123.86 Subtriangular flake with a bevelled edge and concavity in side opposite blunt (bulb) point

1884.123.87 Pointed flake with subcircular body

1884.123.88 Pointed flake with long point and thick cortex covered 'base'

1884.123.89 Large flake with bevel point, leaf shape but with two uneven concavities on one side, cortex on side of point

1884.123.90 .1 Small leaf-shaped flake, skew twisted [and a large flake like a leaf shape s... [sic illegible possibly 'spear'], blade with short tang]

1884.123.90 .2 [Small leaf-shaped flake, skew twisted and a] large flake like a leaf shape s... [sic illegible possibly 'spear'], blade with short tang

[what seems to have happened here is that two artefacts descriptions have been combined in the accession book by accident]

1884.123.91 Flake with left hooked point

1884.123.92 Very small flake with bell outline

1884.123.93 Subcircular flake, thick at one end, which is coated with cortex

1884.123.94 Large nondescript flake, broad spin at hinge fracture

1884.123.95 Large nondescript flake, broad

1884.123.96 Large nondescript flake, cortex coated along a concave side

1884.123.97 Flakes with more or less definite signs of secondary working ... [for 1884.123.97-113] - Subrectangular suboval flake with 'platform' base with concave worked hollow on one edge (7)

1884.123.98 Lop-sided leaf-shaped flake with flat platform base, ?serrated finely along one edge (5)

1884.123.99 Skew subpentangular flake with flat platform base, ?serrated and worked along 2 edges (6 1/4)

1884.123.100 Suboval end scraper, steeply worked at the thick end with patch of cortex on left side (c 7)

1884.123.101 Subrectangular end scraper with curved top, worked as above (5 1/2)

1884.123.102 Flake ?end scraper ?worked at the butt end with a deep curve on the bulb side (the upper surface in use), the other surface rough with a cortex patch and cortex prominence (c 7)

1884.123.103 Suboval triangular flake with cortex one side with worked edge (with notch) at the top (5 3/4)

1884.123.104-5 Semi-oval flakes, keeled along the upper surface, work along the edge as scrapers (c 4 1/2)

1884.123.106 Plano-convex flake disc scraper, suboval (5), cortex patches

1884.123.107 Plano-convex flake disc scraper, subcircular (4 1/2), cortex patches

1884.123.108 Small flat suboval flake disc scraper, patch of cortex near the secondary working

1884.123.109 Small flat suboval flake disc scraper

1884.123.110 Subcircular subpentangular disc scraper with band of marginal cortex bevelled and worked as a scraper on 3 sides (4)

1884.123.111 Broad flake scraper with 3 'sides' and expanded curved edge, worked on right side and possibly at the edge of the 'platform' (4)

1884.123.112 Flake scraper with long concave 'platform' and curved edge worked all along (c 5 1/2)

1884.123.113 Concave-convex suboval flake with cortex over convex side worked round end opposite bulb

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. 1875 'Excavations at Cissbury Camp, Sussex' Journal of the Anthropological Institute 5 pp 357-90
[Pitt Rivers] Lane Fox, A. 1876 '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. 1876 '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


[1] To the author's untutored eye, looking at aerial views of the area available via multimap, a tumulus can no longer be identified.