Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Fieldwalking in Sussex in 1867

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

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, Seaford amongst other places (this list is from west to east).

Thompson describes the same survey:

On his return to the south [from working with Greenwell in Yorkshire] in the late summer Fox [that is, Pitt Rivers] made a survey of the hillforts in Sussex. He had no maps at a larger scale than 1 inch to a mile to help him(they were not yet available) and he made rough plans of the various hillforts (Seaford, Mt Caburn, Hollingbury, Whitchurch, Wolstenbury [sic], Chanctonbury Ring and Cissbury) that he visited, travelling over this area 50 miles long and 5 fives wide on foot. He concluded the earthworks were isolated tribal defences. Cissbury, the largest camp in Sussex, was the object of special study. ... This was the site chosen for excavation in September, 1867 and January 1868. [Thompson, 1977: 47-8]

In his President's address to the Anthropological Institute Pitt Rivers brings some of the conclusions he drew after his trip to the attention of the Institute members:

The rules of defence have been the same throughout all time, and are extremely simple. And simplest amongst those questions which I would submit to those who think that an organised system of coast defence, such as we have never attained in modern times, existed in the age of bronze is this - How, I would ask, is it possible that these forts could have been constructed for the defence of valleys which they did not command? They are situated on the summits of hills far beyond the range of the tidal rivers, with the weapons at that time in use. They are not confined to the coast; do not even exist in any unusual number on the coast, except near Beachy Head, where the sea happens at the present time to be eating away the high hills upon which the forts stand. They are also spread over the interior, not of the South Downs only, but of all the hilly country of Britain, as far as the north of Scotland, and a like distribution of them exists in France and elsewhere. They are all upon the tops of hills and essentially hill forts and not valley defences. The prehistoric earthworks of this country are of two kinds, representing two different phases in the civilization of the people. Firstly the period of the hill-forts, when each tribe had its stronghold to resort to when attacked by neighbouring tribes. Secondly, a period of migration to which the continuous lines of dyke fortification belong, when people moved in large and comparatively well-organized bodies. These dykes, I believe, mark the Scandinavian immigration in England from east to west. To these two prehistoric periods may be added, if we take in modern times, which for anthropological purposes we ought to do, the period of strategical fortresses, when armies moved in very highly organised bodies, accompanied by vast stores of material, which made them jealous of their communications, and unwilling to leave strong places behind them on their path. Such are the modern fortresses of our time, but no one would dream of applying the principles of strategy which are applicable to this period, to such places as the hill-forts of the South Downs. [Pitt Rivers, 'President's Address', Journal of the Anthropological Institute, vol. 6 (1877) pp 491-510: 501-2]

Pitt Rivers and fieldwalking

Pitt Rivers explained the benefits of fieldwalking, as he had done when surveying the hillforts

As an old sportsman I commend flint hunting to all anthropologists who have not practised it. As a healthy exercise it is fully entitled to a place amongst field sports, and in its objects it is far higher, for while the sportsman pushes forward to be in at the dath, the goal of the flint hunter is to be in at the birth of a fresh discovery. My discovery of this flint factory [at Cissbury], if it was but a little one, was nevertheless a birth, introduced by such pains as a month of continuous walking over the Sussex downs might entitle me to, and for which I considered it an ample reward. During that month I examined and measured fifteen camps, walked over a considerable area of cultivated ground, and came to the conclusion that the majority of the camps are associated in an especial manner with the existence of flint flakes on the surfface in the interior of them. [Pitt Rivers 1876: 359]

As Bowden comments:

Collection of artefacts from the surface of ploughed fields was little reported that it may have been a common activity amongst mid-nineteenth century antiquarians. That [Pitt Rivers] took surface collections very seriously is demonstrated by his Stonehenge report and his published report on the results of artefact collection in Oxfordshire and Kent appears to be a new departure in British archaeology. Unfortunately he did not publish all his endeavours in this aspect of field archaeology. On 30 August 1869 Kate Amberley wrote in her journal, 'Augustus and I ride to Wheybury [Uleybury?]; I held his horse while he walked over the field and found some flints which proved it to be a British camp, at all events pre-Roman'. [1991: 94]

Kate Amberley was a relative by marriage.

Items from the hillforts of Sussex collected in 1867

There are quite a few items in the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum that Pitt Rivers collected during his tour of Sussex hillforts in 1867:

Beachy Head

Pitt Rivers appears to have visited Beachy Head on 2 October 1867 and 8 October 1869 if the dates given to some of the following artefacts are correct. The items collected in 1869 are the other places in Sussex webpage. Beachy Head is a chalk headland close to Eastbourne, East Sussex. The cliff here is the highest chalk sea cliff in Britain, rising over 500 feet.

1.1884.133.216 Laterally curved suboval medially-ridged white patinated end scraper (9.3) Beachy Head Sussex 2.10.67 [Drawing]
2. 1884.127.117 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.127.1-143 'Modern' stone etc implements Hammers Axe heads - 1884.127.107 - 143 Globular hammerstones and ?fabricators - Globular nodule of calcified flint surface (white cortex) battered on one side (6.5 7.1) Beachy Head 2.10.69 [NB could be 2.10.67] [Drawing]

Chanctonbury Ring

The Ring is a hill-fort on top of Chanctonbury Hill, near Wiston in West Sussex. According to an article, 'Excavations at Chanctonbury Ring, Wiston, West Sussex 1977' by Owen Bedwin, David Rudling, Sue Hamilton, Peter Drewett and Karen Petzoldt in Britannia, Vol. 11, (1980), pp. 173-222, Pitt Rivers visited the site in 1869 and 'opened the three barrows just outside the hill fort on the Ring. He found nothing to date them and concluded that they were in some way connected with the hill fort'. [Archaeologia, xlii (1869):27-52]

1. 1884.123.468 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.123.1-911 Neolithic and Mesolithic Madelainean etc - Grey cardboard box of flakes etc and oyster shells found at Chancktonbury [sic] Ring 26.9.67 ALF [Drawing]
2. 1884.125.104 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.125.1-415 Neolithic implements 1884.125.1 - Somewhat shoe-shaped dark grey pebble flaked to an edge and below ?scraper (11 3/4) Chanctonbury Ring 26.9.67 ALF [Drawing]
3. 1884.125.109 Similar narrower ridge-backed round-ended flake end scraper [to 1884.125.108] (8 1/4) Chanctonbury Ring 26.9.67 ALF [Drawing]
4. 1884.125.120 Straight-based suboval white patinated flat flake Chanctonbury Ring 28.9.67 [Drawing]
5. 1884.125.121 Thick subtriangular flat flake with worked point (6 3/4) Chanctonbury Ring 2.9.67 [Drawing]
6. 1884.128.13 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.128.1- 84 Modern Stone Implements Mullers etc Pestles Mullers contd [sic] Columnar pounder of bluish grey flint with grey-brown cortex over surface (c 12) Chanctonbury Ring 26.9.67 S [S = surface] [Drawing]
7. 1884.140.146 .1-8 Delivery Catalogue II entry - Models of cromlechs and objects from Cissbury Hill 8 fragments of pottery Chanctonbury [Case or screen] 43 385 386 387
8. Not accessioned or numbered [Geographical] Card Catalogue Entry - [English archaeology] Sussex Chanctonbury Neolithic - England Neolithic Sussex Chanctonbury Ring Grey cardboard Box of flint flakes etc and oyster shells A.L.F. 26.9.67 Original Pitt Rivers Collection


Falmer was a small village and parish between Brighton and Lewes in East Sussex. It is now also the home of the University of Sussex campus.

1. 1884.133.24 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.133.1-235 Stone Implements Worked Flakes Scrapers - Leaf-shaped grey flint end scraper with irregular edge (c 5.5) Downs at Falmer Sussex 1867 [Drawing]

Highdown Hill

Highdown Hill overlooks Littlehampton, Angmering, and Worthing. It is now the property of the National Trust.

1. 1884.35.61 Accession Book IV entry - 1884.35.1-121 - Pottery Primitive and Ancient Hand-moulded 1884.35.56-62 Fragments of British urns (gritty ware) from pit b [6?] Highdown Hill Sussex
Additional Accession Book IV entry - Archaeologia UU 421
2. 1884.140.149 Pitt Rivers Catalogue Entry (1874) - Case 1 Skull. Found by Col A Lane Fox in contact with a bronze socket knife or dagger (in this collection)[1884.119.292] in a grave at Highdown Hill Sussex Oct 12 1867. Index 70. Its connexion [sic] with the remains of the Bronze age is doubtful and from its form improbable [p3]
3. 1884.140.241 [Geographical] Card Catalogue Entry - [English archaeology] Sussex Highdown Hill - Delivery Catalogue II 247 A.L.F. 1874 3 No 17 [1 of] Skull and two jaws * Original Pitt Rivers Collection Retained in Dept. of Zool. and Comp. Anatomy in 1883 Transferred in 1953 * Skull in grave with bronze dagger found 12 Oct 1867

Telscombe Down

Telscombe Down is in East Sussex, located six miles south of Lewes.

1. 1884.125.114 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.125.1-415 Neolithic implements Small circular flat discoidal scraper (c 4) Telscombe Down ALF S 24.9.67 [Drawing]

Wolstonbury Hill

This hill is over two miles north of Brighton, in Pyecombe parish, West Sussex. It is over 700 feet high. The hill fort is on a plateau to the west of the hill.

1. 1884.125.122 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.125.1-415 Neolithic implements Thick subtriangular sharp-pointed pebble flake with cortex covered back, worked at the point and all round, ?point and ?scraper (6 3/4) Wolstanbury Hill 20.9.67 [Drawing]
2. 1884.132. 298-327 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.132.1-405 Stone Implements - Glass topped box containing 30 flakes mostly white patinated with black fungoid or dendritic 'deposit' Camp. Wolstanbury Sussex Sept 1867

Some of these might have been collected by John Evans:

Note that not all of these mention John Evans by name, he might therefore not have collected all of them, particularly as Pitt Rivers was himself in the area at the time.

Birling Gap

Situated on the Seven Sisters, not far from Beachy Head [qv] and is now owned by the National Trust. Note that there are quite a lot of stone tools in the founding collection said to come from Birling Gap and the Seven Sisters themselves that are not marked as having been collected by Pitt Rivers or dated to 1867, but they might have been. These items are not listed here.

1. 1884.123.35 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.123.1-911 Neolithic and Mesolithic Madelainean etc - Sub-triangular white flake with broken point: worked at the broad end Downs near Berling Gap Sussex 1867 [Drawing]
2. 1884.123.283 1884.123.262-?283 Scrapers - White patinated plano-convex suboval flake ?scraper with several concavities Sussex Burling [sic] Gap [Drawing]
3. 1884.125.52 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.125.1-415 Neolithic implements Flint core Birling Gap Sussex [Drawing]
4. 1884.125.53 Semi-oval small (tongue-shaped) flake Birling Gap Sussex [Drawing]
5. 1884.125.54 White oblong broad flake Birling Gap Sussex [Drawing]
6. 1884.125.55 White oblong narrow flake with cortex edge Birling Gap Sussex [Drawing]
7. 1884.125.56 Flake end scraper suboval (4 1/4) Birling Gap Sussex [Drawing]
8. 1884.125.57 Flake end scraper oval triangular (5 1/4) Birling Gap Sussex [Drawing]
9. 1884.132.50 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.132.1-405 Stone Implements Flakes - White patinated calcified flake with bulge on one side and skew end (c 8) Near Burling Gap (?Birling) 1867 [Drawing]
10. 1884.133.19 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.133.1-235 Stone Implements Worked Flakes Scrapers - Small plano-convex white patinated grey-cortexed thumb flint (2.7) Downs near Berling [sic] Gap Sussex J Evans 1867 [Drawing]
11. 1884.133.20 Broken end of ?parallel-sided larger scraper [than 1884.133.19] of similar flint (c 6.5) Downs near Berling [sic] Gap Sussex J Evans 1867 [Drawing]
12. 1884.133.22 Somewhat beak-shaped cortexed pebble flake scraper, trimmed nearly all round, similar flint [to 1884.133.21] Downs near Berling [sic] Gap Sussex J Evans 1867 [Drawing]


Just to the east of Brighton, and now part of the city.

1. 1884.125.112 Accession Book VI entry - 1884.125.1-415 Neolithic implements Wide flat end scraper with round scraper head and angle butt (c 6 1/2) nr Rottingdean 1866 J.E. [?John Evans][Drawing]

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
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