Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Seaford, Sussex in 1876.

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

Urns found at Seaford by Pitt Rivers, illustrated in the JAI.

Urns found at Seaford by Pitt Rivers, illustrated in the JAI.

Pitt Rivers explains in his paper, 'Excavations in the Camp and Tumulus at Seaford, Sussex', published in 1877 that:

[In 1868] I made some allusion to the camp at Seaford. The comparatively few flint flakes found on the surface in its neighbourhood, the more or less rectangular outline, the presence of Roman remains in its vicinity, and the existence of a mound in the interior ... led me to view the local assignation of a Roman origin to this work with more favour than I had done any of the traditions which so commonly attribute the camps of this neighbourhood to that people. This view, however, never very definitely held by me at any time, was modified ... by information ... to the effect that Mr John Evans ... who had spent a few weeks in Seaford in the autumn of 1867, and whohad therefore better opportunities of carefully examining this work, had found a scraper and a few flint flakes within the camp. When, therefore, it was decided tht the Exploration Committee of the present year should turn its attention to this place ... partly due to a false report that the cliff on which the camp stands was shortly to be blown up for the formation of a breakwater, I at once set myself to examine into these other superficial evidences of design in the arrangement of the camp by which the fortifications of the Britons may so invariably be distinguished from those of other races, and especially the Romans. [Pitt Rivers, 1877: 287]

He was assisted (again) by James Park Harrison (as at Cissbury). Pitt Rivers estimated that the sea had eroded nearly half of the camp on the cliff. He believed that the 'most characteristic feature of a British earthwork .... consists of its conforming to the outline of the hill'. He carefully measured Seaford with Harrison and concluded:

I see no reason to doubt, but, on the contrary, every reason to be sure, that the rampart was originally at least 5 feet higher than it is now; and from this we learn how well the principles of British castrametation are carried ou in this work - how carefully the defenders economised their interior space, drawing their rampart just far enough down the hill to obtain a command of view, but not one yard farther than was necessary for that purpose. [Pitt Rivers, 1877: 289]

Having concluded the fort was made by the 'Britons', Pitt Rivers' attention then turned to the mound in the interior of the camp. He caused his workmen to cut a trench through the tumulus where they found stone flakes, tools, pottery etc. He concluded of the mound:

Whether the tumulus was of the age of the camp, or not, it is of course impossible to determine with certainty; but the probability is, I think, in favour of its being so. Nothing would be more natural than to bury a deceased chief in rear of his rampart, and close to the main entrance ... [Pitt Rivers, 1877: 293]

Attention then turned to the ditch, where another trench was dug, and they found a great deal of Romano-British pottery sherds. A cutting was also made through the rampart, but they only found two flakes there 'the occurrence of which may have been accidental'. [Pitt Rivers, 1877: 295] While Pitt Rivers was digging, Messrs J.H. Price and J. Price were digging in an adjacent cemetery. Pitt Rivers decided to dig a section of this cemetery 'during their absence' and found:

two large urns now exhibited, which , with some difficulty, I was able to extract from the matrix without injury. One a Roman vessel ... was found 2 ft 6 in. beneath the surface ... The other ... found at 3 ft 6 in. from the surface, is of ruder workmanship, also wheel-turned ... Both urns contained burnt bones ... Round about the urns, however, and at the same depth, numerous flint flakes and one scraper were discovered. [Pitt Rivers, 1877: 295]

Items from Seaford in the PRM

One of the two urns found by Pitt Rivers was donated as part of the founding collection:

1884.37.61 Accession Book IV entry - 1884.37.1-113 Pottery Ancient Wheel-made. Large globular urn which contained burnt bones. ?Roman or Post Roman, found 3 1/2 ft down at Seaford 6.6.76: Secondary burial (JAI VI p19 pl 18.1) [?Drawing]

1884.37.62 Glass-topped box containing burnt bones Seaford

1884.37.63 Glass-topped box containing urn fragments Seaford

It seems likely that the second urn was also donated, but it was not accessioned when the rest of the founding collection was, for unknown reasons. An entry in the Delivery Catalogue (written when the items transferrred from London to Oxford) suggests that the urn is in the Museum:

Delivery Catalogue I entry - Miscellaneous objects Urn and ashes (Cemetery Seaford) 871/ 12394

But, to date, it has not been identified.

He also gave:

1884.50.11 Accession Book IV entry - 1884.50.1-36 Horse-shoes etc - Much corroded horseshoe, found in excavations interior of Seaford camp (the label attached to it gives more information: Old Pitt Rivers Museum display label - Horse shoe much corroded, with 6 square nail holes, no calkins. Found in interior of SEAFORD CAMP. P.R.coll. 140-8386)

An arrowhead, which Pitt Rivers mentions being found on the camp might also be in the Museum (but has not yet been found and accessioned):

Delivery Catalogue II entry - Miscellaneous Flint arrow head (Seaford camp) not no'd 7 Cases 279 280

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. 1877 'Excavations in the Camp and Tumulus at Seaford, Sussex' Journal of the Anthropological Institute 6 pp 287-99
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