Pitt Rivers was a soldier and archaeologist, hugely influential in the development of modern archaeology.
Augustus Henry Lane Fox was born at Hope Hall, Yorkshire on 14 April 1827 into a wealthy landowning family. He changed his name to Pitt Rivers after inheriting an estate from his great uncle. He pursued a career in the army from 1845 and fought in the Crimean War, retiring in 1882.
From 1851, Pitt Rivers was occupied in research on the replacement of muskets by rifles, and this led to his interest in the development of firearms. He is known to have recovered some flint tools at Acton in 1869, which may have led him to extend his interest to all kinds of artefacts. He amassed a huge collection of ethnographical items from all over the world. He developed the idea of typology - the classification of artefacts in a chronological sequence, showing their development over time. Pitt Rivers joined the Ethnological Society of London as early as 1861, and served as president of the Anthropological Institute in 1881-1882.
He began carrying out excavations while still serving in the army, but his chance to indulge in excavation on a grand scale came in 1880 when he inherited the 27,000 acre Cranborne Chase estate in Dorset, which contained many archaeological sites. He had a meticulous approach to excavation and was interested in recording all the finds on a given site - not just the most spectacular - as well as their contexts. He kept detailed records of the position of all finds and of the excavation in general. He felt that excavation should be undertaken only under proper archaeological supervision, and by properly trained people.
It was only natural that Pitt Rivers should become the country's first inspector of ancient monuments, after the passing of Sir John Lubbock's 1882 Ancient Monuments Act. Lubbock would later marry Pitt Rivers's daughter and was an important archaeologist in his own right.
Pitt Rivers also had a keen interest in public education. His research was published in the four-volume 'Excavations in Cranborne Chase' (1887 - 1896), and he exhibited his artefact collections and finds in local museums. The excavated material from Cranborne Chase was transferred to the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum and his ethnographical collections form the basis of the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.
Pitt Rivers died on 4 May 1900.
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