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With its rich archaeological landscape and historic towns, Wiltshire has been a focus of antiquarian activity since the earliest days. John Aubrey made the first survey the county’s megaliths as early as the middle of the seventeenth century. The rudeness of the stones convinced him that they were the works of Ancient Britons, made long before the arrival of the Romans. His research led to the writing of Monumenta Britannica, the first archaeological treatise in English.
Antiquaries William Cunnington and Sir Richard Colt Hoare supervised the excavation and detailed recording of hundreds of prehistoric burial mounds in Wiltshire over the course of the late eighteenth to nineteenth centuries. On the inheritance of his Cranborne Chase estate in 1880, Lieutenant-General Augustus Pitt Rivers conducted a programme of systematic excavation of ancient monuments, introducing military surveying methods, including the use of three-dimensional grids and the creation of reconstruction models. These techniques form the basis of archaeological site recording today. Much early antiquarian activity focused on Salisbury Cathedral but by the early twentieth century attention shifted to Old Sarum, the precursor settlement to Salisbury, where the Society of Antiquaries of London sponsored excavations of the castle, cathedral and other buildings.
Essentially an atlas, first published by John Speed in 1611, the Theatre of the Empire of Great Britain contains 67 maps, mostly of English and Welsh counties with a few of Scotland and Ireland. No roads were shown but some important buildings were depicted. This map of Wiltshire illustrates Stonehenge and a plan of the City of Salisbury.
Nineteenth century excavations at Old Sarum revealed a Norman castle, cathedral and royal palace. The old settlement was situated on a waterless hilltop so was destined to fail. By the early thirteenth century, a new Cathedral was being constructed downhill at New Sarum and the Norman cathedral and castle were gradually demolished.
The settlement at Old Sarum was a precursor to New Sarum, known today as Salisbury. Here the site's ancient origins are described with text derived from Camden's Britannia and the artist purports to show the city before damage from battle in the sixth century. However, his reconstruction of the Saxon stronghold is wildly imaginative and better resembles a medieval stone castle and settlement.
An Iron Age hill fort was constructed at Old Sarum in c. 500 BC and the site subsequently occupied by Romans, Saxons and Normans. The Society sponsored excavations of the site between 1909 and 1915. Pictured here amongst the ruins is William St John Hope, the Society's General Secretary.
This is an early architectural drawing of the Cathedral. The Society realised the importance of accurate and detailed visual records of antiquity, devoid of artistic interpretation. From 1784, it started appointing trained draughtsmen to make facsimile copies of wall paintings and tapestries and visual surveys of cathedrals. The Society had to overcome prejudice that, on account of their accuracy, its published drawings were dull and prosaic.
George Saunders was foremost an architect and designed extensions to the British Museum in 1802. He was later elected to the Society and published his observations on Gothic architecture in Archaeologia. This drawing was made to accompany his paper; he categorised groined arches in English buildings using Salisbury as one of the examples. He dated these vaults to the 1220s.
These sketches reveal lost thirteenth-century ceiling paintings from Salisbury Cathedral. The Society, having failed to persuade the architect James Wyatt (1746-1813) not to whitewash over the paintings in 1789, commissioned its draughtsman to record them. Jacob Schnebbelie made several sketches in situ and later produced a set of completed drawings. In the Cathedral today you can see some nineteenth century repainting on the site of the lost originals.
The Society holds the most complete collection of rubbings of monumental brasses in Britain, including many of brasses which have since been lost or damaged. Brasses were first documented by drawing before rubbing was introduced in the late eighteenth century. This effigy shows Bishop Geste in his full post-Reformation Episcopal robes; the brass still lies in Salisbury Cathedral although it has been moved from its original position in the choir.
Antiquary William Cunnington (1754-1810) supervised the excavations of over 400 burial mounds in Wiltshire, many on behalf of Sir Richard Colt-Hoare (1758-1838). While the majority of sites were prehistoric, Cunnington noted differences in this large Anglo-Saxon barrow at Sherrington. He measured the mound at 108 feet long by 80 feet wide at its broadest part.
William Cunnington's excavations were carefully recorded and published alongside illustrations. However, his men were more interested in grave goods than human remains and left bones in situ. He described the excavation of the Sherrington barrow in a letter to the landowner, antiquary Aylmer Lambert, which the Society subsequently published.
The chance find of some ancient weapons at Harnham Hill led to the discovery of an Anglo-Saxon cemetery. The Society's resident Secretary John Yonge Akerman (1806-1873) directed the excavations in 1853-4 which unearthed 65 skeletons. The discoveries were significant, but particularly notable was the careful recording of human remains.
Akerman's interpretations of the Harnham Hill excavations were published by the Society in Archaeologia, accompanied by drawings of the finds. This drawing shows a wooden bronze-bound dish, disc brooch, rings, a pin and a bronze lion's mask. These, along with many of the Harnham finds, were presented to the British Museum by the land owner Viscount Folkstone.
Antiquary Sir Richard Colt-Hoare's Ancient History of South Wiltshire was published in 1812. This important work was based on excavations of Wiltshire's barrows by Hoare and William Cunnington. It included his interpretations of Scratchbury Camp, a later Iron Age hill fort, and this plan of the site by Philip Crocker. A second volume, The Ancient History of North Wiltshire, appeared in 1819.
Sir Richard Colt-Hoare excavated a large round barrow known as Norton Bavant Barrow 1 in the early nineteenth century. The finds recovered became known as the 'Scratchbury Grave Group' because the barrow was in the centre of Scratchbury Camp, the Iron Age hill fort.
The Scratchbury Grave Group finds include an amber ring and beads, a bronze dagger tip and fragments of two bronze pins. They were discovered in the barrow along with cremated bones. There were originally over 50 beads in this group, as a comparison with the drawing shows.
In the mid nineteenth century Salisbury was one of the earliest towns to form museums to cater for the flood of local antiquarian finds and today the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum houses one of England’s richest archaeological collections. It continues to add to its holdings and recently has acquired some spectacular local finds made through the Portable Antiquities Scheme. It functions also to showcase the work of modern archaeologists working in the region. The presentation by Wessex Archaeology illustrates the application of new computer technologies to the study of regional sites, landscapes and finds from excavations..
(left) Philip Crocker, Bronze Age Barrow at Upton Lovell, Wiltshire, 1802-06, Watercolour with pen and ink
Many objects from the 'Drainage Collection' were brought to London and exhibited to the Society, who then published an account of the finds with illustrations. The 'Drainage Collection' was assembled under one roof by the antiquary Dr Richard Fowler (1765-1863) and formed part of the founding collection of the Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum in 1860.
These arrowheads were discovered in the medieval drainage channels that ran through the streets of Salisbury. They were found by workmen installing a new sewerage system in the 1850s. The 'Drainage Collection' is made up of ordinary and extraordinary objects left by the people of the city, reflecting over five hundred years of deliberate disposal or accidental loss.
The Salisbury and South Wiltshire Museum moved to St Ann Street in 1864. The Blackmore Museum opened next door three years later, based on the collections of William Blackmore, a Salisbury business man with links to North America and brother to local antiquary Dr Humphrey Blackmore. He acquired the Squier and Davis collection of archaeological finds from Ohio and created a museum to display it. Antiquary Edward Stevens was the first honorary Curator and Director of both museums.
This photograph taken during excavations at Milford Hill 'shows the spot where a fairly chipped pointed flint implement was dug out in the presence of James Brown on June 13 1864'. Brown found over twenty handaxes altogether in the gravel removed from a cellar at Elm Grove.
Milford Hill was a prolific site for the discovery of Palaeolithic handaxes. The construction of roads and houses in the mid-nineteenth century led to the discovery of 200 such flints.
Dr Humphrey Blackmore was a local antiquary and curator of Salisbury Museum. He first reported the discovery of handaxes at Milford Hill in the Archaeological Journal in 1864. Dr Blackmore carefully recorded the finds in this notebook, along with sketches of the flints.
This hoard of Roman bronze metalwork was found by a metal detectorist in 2005. Following the initial find of one trulleus (shallow handled bowl), Wessex Archaeology excavated the site. A further two trullei and two wine strainers were found. One trulleus is stamped P.CIPI.POLIBII, the mark of the Pompeian workshop of Cipius Polybius. Together they are an outstanding example of Roman metalwork and an uncommon discovery in Wiltshire.
This personal hoard from Brixton Deverill consists of five silver coins (a shilling, three groats and one half groat) from the reigns of Henry VIII to Edward VI and a silver sixteenth century finger-ring with a bezel consisting of a four petalled flower.
This impressive gold torc was discovered in the ditch of a Bronze Age burial mound at Monkton Deverill in 1990. It was made from a single gold bar, twisted and then doubled back on itself, to form three strands. Found with the torc was this copper-alloy palstave axe.
The Warminster Jewel was found by a metal detectorist in a field near Cley Hill, Warminster in 1997. Alfred, King of Wessex (871- 899 AD), sent aestels (manuscript pointers) to all dioceses in his kingdom to accompany his translation of Pope Gregory's Pastoral Care. Only five other aestels of this period have been found in England. A seventh was found during excavations at Borg in the Lofoten Islands of Norway.
In recent years archaeologists have increasingly used new technologies to investigate monuments, landscapes and excavated finds. Features that may once have been invisible to the naked eye can be revealed and enhanced using digital technologies. Aerial surveys of landscapes using LiDAR laser scanning and 3D laser scanning of human remains allow archaeologists to get even closer to revealing information that may otherwise be lost.
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