Thursday, 14 August 2014

Image/Object/Text: an AHRC Image Gallery

A Roman shoe from the City of London, found during rescue archaeology undertaken by General Pitt-Rivers on 11 December 1866. One of 12 new images published on the online gallery.

This week saw the launch of an online Image Gallery hosted by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), showcasing 12 new photographs of English archaeological objects from the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum.  The gallery builds directly on primary documentation work undertaken as part of my Excavating Pitt-Rivers project, and funded by Arts Council England through the Designation Development Fund. My collaboration with photographer Ian Cartwright for this project was funded by AHRC. A summary of the project is below.

The Pitt Rivers Museum is Oxford University’s Museum of Anthropology and World Archaeology. Founded in 1884 with a donation of c. 26,500 objects by General Augustus Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers, today the Museum holds more than half a million objects.  Pitt-Rivers was a key figure in the development of modern scientific archaeology, but his own archaeological collections have received little attention and less than 5% are on display in the Museum. To start to address this historic neglect, between November 2012 and December 2013 Dan Hicks ran a project, funded through a grant from the Designation Development Fund of Arts Council England (ACE), titled Excavating Pitt-Rivers. Working in the Museum stores, the project documented the English archaeological material collected by General Pitt-Rivers between c. 1865 and 1880. The project team documented some 10,696 archaeological artefacts from across England and published them on the Museum’s online database. In most cases, this is the first time that the objects have been examined since they came to Oxford in 1884.

This basic process of collections-based documentation and enhancement has made  possible this new image gallery, Image/Object/TextOne unexpected outcome of the Excavating Pitt-Rivers project was been a realization that Pitt-Rivers wrote on almost every object that he excavated – and that this text was re-written and added to by other curatorial hands from the 1870s into the 20th century, sometimes creating complex layers of hand-written text and printed labels, the idea of turning archaeological objects into a kind of manuscript record is one interesting way of thinking about Pitt-Rivers’ innovations in scientific archaeology, and his direct approach to objectivity and documentation.

Inspired by this observation, for this online gallery we invited archaeological photographer Ian Cartwright to work with Museum curators to create twelve new images that explore the different kinds of text that is found on these archaeological objects, excavated by Pitt-Rivers between the 1860s and 1880s.  Dan Hicks has written a series of captions, exploring how each text can be read to reveal elements of the object’s modern life-history, as well as its archaeological past.  Together, the images and captions show how entangled relationships between museum artefacts and their documentation can unfold, blurring the lines between premodern archaeological objects and modern manuscripts, and transforming artefacts into unique kinds of documents. 
You can read more and explore all the images on the AHRC Image Gallery Website

Friday, 21 February 2014

"The Material Turn" and Three Types of Material Witnessing

Detail from a photograph of an excavation of the ditch at Wor Barrow, Dorset by General Pitt-Rivers, Sept-Oct 1893. Pitt Rivers Museum photograph collections (Accession Number 2002.73.1)
 I'm giving the keynote paper at a symposium on the theme of "The Material Turn and the Study of Objects" on Saturday 1 March at UEA's East London campus. My paper is on the theme of "Three Types of Material Witnessing" - expanding on some of the approaches I explored in my 2010 paper The Material-Cultural Turn, my paper Material Culture Studies: a reactionary view (with Mary Beaudry), and my 2013 paper on Four-Field Anthropology - all of which have sought to call into question any straightforward idea of a 'material turn' in the humanities and social sciences.

The symposium forms part of 'Material Witness' - an excellent initiative, funded by a grant from the AHRC's Collaborative Skills Development programme and led by Alixe Bovey (University of Kent), in collaboration with the University of Kent's partners in the Consortium for Humanities and Arts, South-East England (CHASE) - The Courtauld Institute of Art, Goldsmiths (University of London), the Open University, and the Universities of East Anglia, Essex, Kent, and Sussex. Further details on the Material Witness project are here.

Monday, 3 February 2014

From Museums to the Historic Environment

Image: A selection of Bronze Age copper alloy axes from the UK and Ireland, collected by General Pitt-Rivers between c.1851 and 1881, from the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum. Photograph by Carlotta Gardner, taken as part of the Excavating Pitt-Rivers project in 2013
I received the exciting news last week that my application through the ESRC Impact Acceleration programme for funding for a pilot programme of knowledge exchange in partnership with the British Museum was successful. The programme builds directly on the documentation work, funded by an award from Arts Council England, that was undertaken on the English archaeological collections in the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum in 2013. The project is led by me in partnership with Dan Pett (British Museum).

The award of £28,947 will fund a pilot programme titled 'From Museums to the Historic Environment': using the Pitt-Rivers archaeological collections to explore the ways in which historic archaeological museum collections hold significant, untapped information about the historic environment of England that is of wider public value. You can read more about the project on the Excavating Pitt-Rivers blog.

Friday, 17 January 2014

Archaeology and Photography (Royal Anthropological Institute Conference Panel)

Image: "The buried bank of a Bronze Age field boundary ditch found in the deeper soils of the Newark Road subsite,  Cambridgeshire". From Francis Pryor's 'Flag Fen' (1991. London: English Heritage), p. 61. 
Lesley McFadyen and I are convening a panel on the theme of 'Archaeology and Photography' at the Royal Anthropological Institute's conference on Anthropology and Photography at the British Museum, 29-31 May 2014. We received a very high number of proposals, and from which an excellent provision schedule based around four themes - Knowledge, Time, Absence, and Art - has emerged. 

The Paper titles and short abstracts are below. The panel will be chaired by Dan Hicks (Oxford) and Lesley McFadyen (Birkbeck), and Victor Buchli (UCL) will act as Discussant. 
These details are still provisional, as we await confirmation of time and venue from the RAI conference organisers. These will be posted here and on the RAI website in due course.



Duncan Shields (De Montfort University) - Alfred Maudslay's causality dilemma: photography, archaeology and the influence of 19th-century travel literature.
This paper will attempt to account for the relationship between travel literature of the nineteenth century and the photography of archaeological surveys in the work of Alfred Maudslay.

Melania Savino (Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz) - Reaching the public: archaeology and photography in the Turkish Republic.
This paper aims to explore the visual representation of archaeology in the Turkish Republic through the medium of photography. Based on images found both in official publications and archives, this research investigates how archaeological knowledge was created and presented to the general public.

Charlotte Young (University of Exeter) - Visual literacy and site photography in the mid 20th century.
This paper considers how photographic discourse in archaeology affects our perception of the discipline. Today, there is no specific study on how Processual and Postprocessual archaeology affected the visual representation of archaeology in photography published in academic and non-academic works.

Colleen Morgan (University of York) - Archaeological photography as dangerous supplement?
This paper discusses the process of creating a theory-laden archaeological photography, using the photographic record from the sites of Catalhoyuk and Tall Dhiban. Through this record I will investigate photography and visualization as a particularly productive instance of the dangerous supplement.


Dan Hicks (Oxford University) - Unrepeatable experiments: photographs and the double historicity of archaeological archives
This paper reports on archival research undertaken in 2014 into the author's own archaeological fieldwork, carried out for English archaeological units between 1989-1999. In doing so, the paper thinks through some of the limits of life-writing in archaeological thought and practice.

Antonia Thomas (University of the Highlands and Islands) - The Brodgar Stone: image and artefact
This paper presents a photographic biography of the Brodgar Stone, a carved Neolithic slab found in 1924 at the Ness of Brodgar, Orkney. It then extends the discussion to include the wider assemblage from the site to explore the role that photography plays in constructing archaeological narratives.

Mark Knight (Cambridge Archaeological Unit) and Lesley McFadyen (Birkbeck) - At any given moment: archaeology and photography
This paper is about how archaeology and photography share similar properties especially when it comes to exploring ideas concerning extent (space) and duration (time).


Oscar Aldred (Newcastle) and Ian Thompson (Newcastle University) - Archaeological imaginaries and erasures: photographing the Great Northern Coalfield
This paper is based on a collaborative project called Imaginaries and Erasure in the Great Northern Coalfield. In this paper we will explore our research by addressing the specific way that Imagination and Erasure interact with one another when viewed through an archaeological lens.

Jennifer Baird (Birkbeck) - Mistaken images: intent and accident in archaeological photography
Archaeological archives preserve many failed photographs. Using archival photographs from 1920s and 30s excavations at Dura-Europos, this paper considers how unpublished photographs shaped archaeological knowledge, and what alternate histories of archaeology they might reveal.

Danae Fiore (Consejo Nacional de Investigaciones Científicas y Técnicas, Universidad Nacional de Buenos Aires) and Marie Lydia Varela (Universidad de Buenos Aires) Photographs as artefacts: a visual archaeology of three indigenous societies of Tierra del Fuego.
This presentation proposes a "visual archaeology" of ethnographic photographs as artefacts which contain information about indigenous socioeconomic practices and material culture trends. This approach is applied to 1130 photographs of 4000 individuals from 3 indigenous societies of Tierra del Fuego.


Ursula Frederick (Australian National University) - Dust on the lense: intersections in archaeology and art photography
This paper surveys the work of contemporary Australian art photographers whose practice involves a dialogue with archaeology. In addition to considering artwork made within the landscapes and fabric of heritage, it explores how contemporary art photographers think and practice archaeologically.

Carolyn Lefley (University of Hertfordshire) - Excavating images: a photographic response to an archaeological excavation
In 2013 Timespan Heritage Museum in Scotland commissioned photographic artist Carolyn Lefley as their Artist in Residence during the excavation of a longhouse ruin. This paper explores the relationship between photography and archaeology, referencing Lefleys methodology and photographic output.

Helen Wickstead (Kingston University) and Martyn Barber (English Heritage) - Drawing on photos: aerial photogrammetry and virtual mapping, 1865 to 1900
The spectacular failures of early aerial photography reveal that, although aerial photographs are often treated as virtual maps today, making this equivalence requires fundamental transformations in ways of viewing and relating drawings and photographs.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

A Model of Wayland's Smithy Neolithic Chambered Tomb

Image: A scale model of Wayland's Smithy Neolithic Chambered Tomb, made in the 1860s by Alfred Lewis, and acquired by General Pitt-Rivers shortly thereafter. Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.140.97

I published this account of an archaeological model from the founding collection of the Pitt Rivers Museum in 2011 in the inaugural issue of the Edgar Wind Society's Journal. You can read more about my work on Pitt-Rivers' collections on the blog Excavating Pitt-RiversCite this paper as: Dan Hicks 2011. A model of Wayland's Smithy. Edgar Wind Journal 1 (unpaginated).

When it was founded in 1884, the collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum comprised some 26,000 archaeological and ethnographic objects: a number that over the course of the twentieth century grew to over 300,000. Within the founding collection are a number of artefacts that relate directly to Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers’ own interests in the archaeology of Britain. These include a set of thirteen models of prehistoric monuments, one of which is illustrated here (Accession Number 1884.140.97). Like the other twelve, this model was made by Alfred Lionel Lewis, a chartered accountant and amateur anthropologist, in the late 1860s, acquired by Pitt-Rivers soon afterwards, and displayed at his exhibitions in Bethnal Green and South Kensington before being brought to Oxford.

The model depicts Wayland’s Smithy, a Neolithic chambered tomb, which lies a short distance along the Ridgeway from Uffington White Horse in south-west Oxfordshire. The site consists of a trapezoidal mound with a stone-lined trancepted chamber, and was constructed some 6,500 years ago in the middle of the fourth millennium BC. It was little explored in the 1880s, but was the focus of excavations conducted in the early 1960s by Richard Atkinson and Stuart Piggott, at the invitation of the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments of the Ministry of Public Building and Works, after which the site was restored.

The stones, rendered in cork, are surrounded by undergrowth and small trees, depicted by moss. The model’s focus is the sarsen stones of the chamber and the kerb, while the mound is suggested under the vegetation. The cork and the moss are mounted on a square wooden block covered with painted paper. A hand-written label identifies the site as ‘Wayland’s Cave, 3 miles from Shrivenham Station, Berkshire’: a reminder of the significance of rail travel to stations such as this (opened 1840) in facilitating visits to archaeological monuments in the early Victorian period. Each edge of the block is labelled with a compass point, and the whole model is at a scale of 1 inch to 10 feet. Text written on the base indicates the date on which Lewis visited the site and possibly when he manufactured the object: “16 May 1868 3pm & 10 July 1869”.

Perhaps inspired by Lewis, Pitt Rivers went on in the late 1880s to have more than 100 models of archaeological sites produced for his second museum at Farnham from detailed contoured plans, crafted of out plaster or carved in mahogany. These models, of which more than 50 survive in Salisbury Museum, included sites that he had visited while Inspector of Ancient Monuments, Celtic crosses, and his own excavations, where brass pins indicated the precise locations and levels at which artefacts were found. Some were very complex, for example his hinged model of excavations at Cissbury Ring on the South Downs, which lifted up to show how the remains of Neolithic flint mines lay beneath the ramparts of an Iron Age hillfort.

Archaeological model-making came to form part of museum displays, but Chris Evans has observed that physical models were a medium with which archaeologists were experimenting in the second half of the 19th century, and especially after the Great Exhibition of 1851, in a number of different ways. The purpose of models was not simply to document and understand sites and monuments, but for the scientific demonstration of the results of excavations at professional meetings, at a time before widespread use of archaeological photography, and as a three-dimensional alternative to illustration by woodcut, etching or lithography. It is also possible that the models formed more explicitly a part of the archaeological documentation of the site, for instance being used for reference when a site was excavated for a second season.

Today, the model is of interest to us as part of a moment in the history of archaeology when the visualization of the past took a peculiarly physical, and perhaps more creative, form than it did in subsequent years. The object perhaps crystallizes the emerging tensions between the discipline’s scientific or artistic aspirations in the late Victorian period. At the same time, it provides a unique record of the condition and state of preservation of the site in the 1860s, and how it was understood by Alfred Lionel Lewis, long before its ‘restoration to its appearance in Antiquity’, conducted by the Ministry of Works in 1964 after Atkinson and Piggott had departed.

Further Reading
Caroline Butler 2010. Model Monuments: a set of models of prehistoric stone monuments.
Chris Evans 2004. Modelling Monuments and Excavations. In S. de Chadarevian and N . Hopwood (eds) Models: The Third Dimension of Science Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, pp. 109-137.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Call for Papers: Archaeology and Photography

Image: Detail from a photograph by Harold St George Gray of the British Association excavations at Avebury, Wiltshire, April 1922 (Pitt Rivers Museum photographic collections 1998.262.11.5)

Call for Papers: Archaeology and Photography

On 29-31 May 2014, the Royal Anthropological Institute is holding a conference on Anthropology and Photography in London at the British Museum
I'm convening a panel at the conference on Archaeology and Photography with Lesley McFadyen (University of London, Birkbeck). Paper proposals are invited, and are due by 8th January 2014. The Discussant for the panel will be Victor Buchli (Anthropology, UCL).

The session outline is as follows:

Photography has been a central element of archaeological method and practice since the late 19th century, but archaeological photography has been relatively little explored, especially when compared with visual anthropology. This panel brings together new studies of archaeological photography: both of historical photographs in archives, and of contemporary practice. Particular themes in the study of archaeological photography may include, but are not limited to, time, materials, fieldwork, representation, and documentation and the profilmic.

Paper proposals can be submitted through the conference website here - 

To discuss a potential paper, please email Dan Hicks - - and Lesley McFadyen -

You can read more about the conference on the RAI's website here:

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Four-Field Anthropology

Image: A hand-drawn table of "the various sections and sub-sections of Anthropological science according to my view of the matter” by General Augustus Pitt-Rivers: Copyright Bodleian Library, University of Oxfords (Acland Papers d92, fol. 90). For the full discussion and documentation see the Current Anthropology paper

As part of the research for the Excavating Pitt-Rivers project, my team has worked through primary manuscript sources as well as documenting objects in the stores of the Pitt Rivers Museum. Archives and manuscripts are often considered as different kinds of evidence from artefacts, but this kind of distinction was alien to General Pitt-Rivers' own approach - and the project team, informed by ideas developed from historical archaeology, has tried to approach manuscript sources as just another kind of material culture: as material evidence.

With this approach in mind, I wrote this paper, about a previously unpublished drawing made by General Pitt-Rivers in 1882. The drawing shows the discipline of anthropology as consisting of four fields - Physical Anthropology, Ethnology, Culture and Archaeology - and pre-dates the 'four-field' model of anthropology associated with Franz Boas by some 24 years. This idea of anthropology as including archaeology has remained important for North American archaeology, while during the 20th century more commonly archaeology and anthropology took different directions in Europe.

The paper was published in full open access form online by the journal Current Anthropology, includes a supplement that provides a transcription of the letter written by Pitt-Rivers that accompanies the drawing, outlining his view of the organisation and teaching of the discipline.

The drawing is a unique insight into the early transatlantic exchanges in the development of anthropology as an academic subject. The Current Anthropology paper argues that museums, as places that require the physical organisation of knowledge in material form, were key locations at which classificatory approaches in anthropology came to start to classify anthropological knowledge. It also explores the kind of disciplinary histories that can be written from museums and archives.

You can read the paper on the Current Anthropology website here -

The abstract of the paper is below:

"The four-field model of anthropology is conventionally understood to have begun with a paper read by Franz Boas in St. Louis in 1904. Publishing for the first time a drawing made by Augustus Pitt-Rivers in England in 1882, this paper rethinks this proposition by making two arguments. First, the paper explores the role of the classificatory anthropology of the 1870s and 1880s on both sides of the Atlantic in the emergence of the idea of organizing anthropological knowledge. It suggests that this emergence was bound up with the problem of classifying anthropological knowledge in material form in European and North American museums. Second, the paper considers how our knowledge of the discipline's past can develop from the study of objects and documents (rather than only through rereading anthropologists' published texts), in a manner akin to documentary archaeology. In this respect, the anthropological problem of organizing knowledge in material form is still with us, but with a new challenge: How adequate are our current forms of disciplinary historiography for the use of material evidence? Rather than proposing a new set of “charter myths,” the paper explores writing the history of four-field anthropology as a form of material culture studies or historical archaeology (in other words, as a subfield of anthropology), working with the “time warps” created by museums and archives in which disciplinary history is not always already written." Continue reading at Current Anthropology

Monday, 18 February 2013

World Archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum: open access

image: Cover of World Archaeology at the Pitt Rivers Museum: a characterization

My latest book - an overview of the world archaeology collections of the Pitt Rivers Museum, edited with Alice Stevenson - is now published in open access form on the Pitt Rivers Museum website

Each chapter of the 280,000-word volume is reproduced as a searchable pdf. The links to purchase a hard copy of the book are also provided on the Museum page at 

My own authored and co-authored chapters from the book are also published on my pages -

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Pitt Rivers Museum Lunchtime Seminars, Hilary Term 2013

Image: Energy Matter. Christian Thompson. Shown at the We Bury Our Own show at the Pitt Rivers Museum, discussed in a conversation with the artist by Chris Morton in Week 1.
I am convening the Hilary Term 2013 lunchtime seminar series at the Pitt Rivers Museum. The schedule is below. The seminars run on Fridays, 1pm-2.15pm, and are held in the Lecture Room of the Pitt Rivers Museum. For further details, email me: 

Pitt Rivers Museum: Lunchtime Seminar Series Hilary Term 2013
Fridays, 1pm-2.15
Pitt Rivers Museum Lecture Room 

Friday 18 January (Week 1)
Christian Thompson (Ruskin School of Drawing) and Chris Morton (Pitt Rivers Museum)
We Bury Our Own (conversation)

Friday 25 January (Week 2)
Beverly Lemire (University of Alberta and Visiting Fellow, All Soul’s College)
"Men of the World": English Mariners, Fashion & Material Culture in an Era of Global Trade, c. 1600-1800

Friday 1 February (Week 3)
Pierre Lemonnier (Université d'Aix-Marseille)
The transformations of 'technologie culturelle' in the last 40 years

Friday 8 Feburary (Week 4)
Object and Image: conflict and correspondence in transdisciplinary museum research

Friday 15 February (Week 5)
Imagining the Museum of Britain: How Victorians discovered the past and then tried to save it

Friday 22 February (Week 6)
Andy Jones (University of Southampton)
Artists’ Materials: late Neolithic art and the question of agency

Friday 1 March (Week 7)
John Schofield (University or York)
In Berlin: Heritage, Memory and the "Easyjet" Set

Friday 8 March (Week 8)
David Griffiths (Department of Continuing Education, University of Oxford)