The Relevance of the Past – Doris Chapman’s Facial Reconstructions in the 1930s.

We were delighted to welcome Cherwell School student Jack Evans on a sixth-form work placement here in the archives. One of his assignments was to catalogue a box from the Stuart Piggott archive. Here are his thoughts on what he found:

“Recently I spent a week working at the Institute of Archaeology as work experience. Working through the archives was the most interesting time I spent, as I read through the notes and letters of Stuart Piggott. Piggott was a celebrated archaeologist who had a key focus on prehistory, initially in the British Isles but towards the later years of his career increasingly so in India and Europe as a whole. He began work in 1928, aged 18, and published influential papers and books until his final book in 1989. As a result of the quality of his work, he was often in communication with other celebrated archaeologists, and so his archives are a wealth of information, revealing much about the field as well as those who populated it.


Churn Bell Barrow, Berkshire, 1932: photo Stuart Piggott. (HEIR ID 35356, copyright Institute of Archaeology)

The history of archaeology, that is, the study of archaeologists and their craft, explores two periods of history simultaneously. The ancient history examined through excavated artifacts exists alongside the early modern history of the 20th century in which the archaeologists lived, allowing us to see how cultural and societal norms helped to influence the ways in which we studied our ancient ancestors as the field developed.

Doris Chapman, whose only online presence is as the wife of Alexander Keiller (a famous archaeologist), demonstrates this in various ways. Chapman was an artist, and Keiller’s third wife. As I worked through Piggott’s archive, organising each item he had decided was important enough to preserve, I came across groundbreaking work she had done in 1937 – a collection of drawings (Piggott Archive Box 52). She used Bronze Age skulls found at sites such as a burial mound at Rushmore Park, Cranborne Chase (excavated by General Pitt Rivers in the 19th century), and Lanhill Barrow, near Chippenham, Wiltshire (excavated by Kieller, Piggott, A.D. Passmore and A. Cave in 1937) to attempt to draw the faces of humans from over four thousand years ago. She used the structural features of the skulls, creating photo-realistic drawings that helped to put a face to the people who lived in these sites, the people who used the weapons and pottery that had been excavated alongside their skeletons.

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“Bronze Age Interment. Barrow 20, Susan Gibb’s Walk, Rushmore Park. Adult male, Height 5.4.5” D. Chapman 1937

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“West Kennet Long Barrow. Age 35. Height 5.7.” D. Chapman, 1937.

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“Skull 4, Lanhill.” D. Chapman, 1937.

At this point in time the study of the face was not without controversy. In archaeology, very few people had made efforts to deduce the appearances of prehistoric peoples (Wikipedia claims that the first to do so was Mikhail Gerasimov in 1964). In wider culture, the study of physiognomy, where personality and traits are determined by examining the face, had become increasingly widespread in Europe. The Nazi party promoted the identification of and the characterisation of ethnic groups based on facial features through their national school curriculum, a policy which aided their dehumanisation of the groups they would later systematically destroy. Doris Chapman’s efforts seem to have come at the wrong time. War broke out in 1939, and as it continued, and the Nazi’s goals became evident, the study of the face became a taboo concept . Nobody would want to carry out work that could be likened to the work of the Nazis, and more accurate visualisations of prehistoric peoples would not be created for decades. Societal pressures had confined the study of the face to a far smaller role following 1937.

Chapman’s work also allows us to see how technology and its availability influences how we see the distant past. When comparing her drawings to modern day reconstructions, such as that of the Jericho Skull in 2017, we can see the drastic differences. The importance of archives and their organisation can be seen here therefore, as it allows us to see how archaeologists and historians reached their conclusions with the means available to them. As technology improves, new conclusions can be drawn. This does not invalidate the work of the earlier archaeologists, but rather shows that they are key steps towards building the most accurate image and perception of history. It is easy to imagine Chapman’s drawings being used as evidence to determine the character of the people who lived near modern Chippenham, for example, with this knowledge then influencing other conclusions drawn about culture and intelligence. As technology and ideas have improved these conclusions can be altered, improved, moving closer and closer towards a truthful account.

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The cover Stuart Piggott’s notes for ‘Neolithic Cultures of the British Isles’. Institute of Archaeology, Oxford, Stuart Piggott Archive, Box 52.

This can even be seen in Piggott’s later work, for example a 1954 book concerning Neolithic cultures in the British Isles was challenged in its chronology by the advent of radiocarbon dating. However, this also teaches us an important lesson about modern day efforts – they are constrained by our own cultural beliefs and modern technology. It is difficult to find any certainties, and it is necessary to remain open to the possibility that new scientific methods and apparatus can provide compelling evidence to change interpretations of the past.

Finally, the drawings show us the struggle which women have faced, especially in archaeology, to have their work recognised and to make a name for themselves. The Oxford University Archaeological Society, established in 1919, did not accept women until 1927, as I discovered when I worked on the OUAS archive. Often women were sidelined by their husbands, despite carrying out much important work themselves. Chapman shows another woman who, despite fascinating work and incredible artistic talent, found herself lost into obscurity. She is Keiller’s wife to most concerned, her work hidden from many. Despite this, we can see even more the injustice of the public, as she was clearly acknowledged in private. An archaeologist with the reputation of Piggott recognised the importance of these drawings, keeping them in his own personal archives. Growing equality today again shows us how perceptions change with culture. Ideas developed by women which may have been ignored out of hand in the past are now considered equally, and this helps to lead to a more balanced view of history – both ancient and not so ancient.”

Jack Evans, The Cherwell School, Oxford, August 2018


Piggott, S. 1954. The Neolithic Cultures of the British Isles: A Study of the Stone-Using Agricultural Communities of Britain in the Second Millenium B.C.  Edinburgh University Press

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Schliemann’s ‘Troja’: from Ohio to Oxford

Books are a vehicle for transmitting information through the written word, but they are also objects, things, material culture. Like other objects, they are created, have ‘lives’, and will, eventually, ‘die’. They can be bought and sold, possessed, hidden, cached, discarded, exchanged and displayed. Books, like other products of human activity, have meaning in addition to their function as texts.

With this archaeological approach to books in mind, we have been reviewing some of the books hoarded on the shelves of the Institute of Archaeology and reconstructing their life stories: the biographies of the object. The first book we picked for review was this:

Gold lettering on the spine

It’s an American edition of Heinrich (here Anglicised to ‘Henry’) Schliemann’s excavations at Troy, published in English in 1884 by Harper and Brothers.

The title page

It’s a lovely thing, with its dark blue covers, breathless account of the excavations, and beautiful maps and pull-out plans of the site:

It’s an absorbing account of the famous nineteenth-century investigation of the site, fascinating for its insights into Schliemann’s thought-processes and expectations. Convinced that he had found the Troy of the Illiad, the book is a confident interpretation of the archaeology to conform to this belief that he was describing ‘The Homeric Troy and…the later Illium’ . Schliemann’s dating of the site proved to be wildly inaccurate, and his methods of excavation were heavily criticised.


Troy, Tower VIb, from Dorpfeld, W. ‘Troja and Ilion’ 1902 figure 15

Schliemann was not the only 19th century excavator of Troy: the great German archaeologist Wilhelm Dörpfeld excavated there in 1893 and 1894, and further excavations took place in the next century under the direction of Carl Blegen, from 1932-1938. We can be confident that Blegen was familiar with Schliemann’s earlier work, at least in the form of his 1884 English language publication, because we have the evidence of his name in his own handwriting, on the inside leaf of the book at the Institute of Archaeology:


It’s Blegen’s book! But who owned it before Blegen, and how did it come to Oxford?Blegen’s is not the only inscription in this volume – it has been in the possession of at least three people before being donated to the Institute:

The first named owner was Thomas Harvey (b. 1821). At the time he acquired this book, he was living in Painsville, Ohio, where he was superintendent of the area’s schools. He died in 1892.

Carl Blegen was born in Minnesota, Minneapolis in 1887, he joined the University of Cincinnati in 1927 and began working on the mound of Hisarlik, Troy in 1932. Between leaving Harvey’s library and arriving in Blegen’s hands, the book must have had passed through one or more booksellers and private libraries, but archaeologist Blegen was the only one to want to mark his name in the volume.

After a distinguished career excavating in Turkey and Greece, Blegen retired in 1957. He received an honorary D. Litt from the University of Oxford in the same year. Although it is tempting to see this as a potential route which led the book to its current home in Oxford, in fact it took at least one more owner before the book crossed the Atlantic, almost certainly in the luggage of British archaeologist Mervyn Popham (1927-2000).

Although Popham had been interested in archaeology from his childhood, working on epigraphy and joining excavations, it was not until the early 1960s that archaeology became his career. Known in particular for his important work at Lefkandi and Knossos in Crete, Popham was predominantly based at the British School of Athens (he was its Assistant Director from 1963-70) with a brief interlude as associate professor of classics at – the University of Cincinnati! He was in Cincinnati from 1970-1972, which overlaps with the death of Carl Blegen, aged 84. We have to suppose that it was at this time the book came into Popham’s hands, either directly from Blegen, as a gift, or acquired when Blegen’s library was broken up after his death.

In 1972, Popham returned to England to take up a post as the lecturer in Aegean archaeology at Oxford. The Institute of Archaeology, where he had an office, became his working home for many years, and generations of students have benefited from the books donated from Popham’s private library to the Institute’s Reading Room.

The Mervyn Popham Donations Bookplate

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The Jacquetta Hawkes Collection, Portugal, 1949.

Remember this box discovered during recent building works?

Today’s posting comes from undergraduate Dalva Gerberon, who has been investigating. Over to you, Dalva…

I undertook the study of the Jacquetta Hawkes collection for the Archives of the Oxford Institute of Archaeology in December 2016 as a part of my fieldwork as a second year undergraduate in Archaeology and Anthropology. It was particularly exciting to be given the responsibility of these items – the arrowheads are particularly impressive, both in their aspect and in their quality. Studying the collection required spending a lot of time observing the items one by one and analysing them, which forced me to see more about them that what I could them from just one glance; eventually it led me to note important and interesting details, such as fractures, retouches, or decorations. I definitely enjoyed getting to know these objets and working out their functions and roles in the life of the inhabitants of the site.

This collection of objects was given to Jacquetta Hawkes, during a visit to Portugal in 1949. It was presented to us in three different boxes, which we ordered from 1 to 3, starting counter-clockwise from the top. Box number 1 was a long box that contained 66 flints – flakes, blades, and arrowheads – ranging from medium-sized to very small. Box number 2 was a smaller, closed card box – item n°87 of this list. It contained 20 items, 15 of them arrowheads, while the other 5 were bone tools involved in the processing of fabric. Box number 3 was a long box that contained 4 cylindrical stone items and 9 roughly rectangular fired clay items, all of unknown purpose. In addition, in also contained a plastic bag and its 10 ceramic fragments of varying size and shape. In total, the collection has 110 items, plus one extra fragment that probably comes from another item of the collection.

The collection when I started studying it

Some of the objects of the first box, especially the few arrowheads, were roughly, if not poorly, executed, and display marks of imprecise knapping. More importantly, they appear to have been made from poor-quality stone; some items were made from the outer stone (cortex), and not from the core, which would be more solid, and better to work or knap. This leads to the possibility that these were practice pieces, given to children or learners as an exercise, not to produce items for use. On the other hand, the second box contained very fine arrowheads, most of them quite small and fine, which indicates that the site was also occupied by individuals who mastered stone toolmaking techniques and could produce high-quality tools and weapons, and retouch them to enhance them. The broader range of stones used indicates that they also knew which raw material to select to optimise the quality of their tool.

Box n°2 contained an exquisite set of arrowheads

The last box posed more of a problem in terms of interpreting and analysing its objects. The nature of the cylindrical objects was uncertain as we did not know what material they were made of. We concluded that they are fossilised plant stems, broken in several pieces. Their purpose is still unsure, but the traces of use-wear that can be seen on some of them would suggest that they could have been used for grinding. The fired clay items clearly appear to be loom-weights. They were held in place by strings that went through the holes that we can see at each of their corners – some of them were elongated by the pulling action. Most interestingly, the weights are decorated with engraved lines in varying patterns.

Some of the loom-weights were decorated

The last part of the collection was the 10 pottery fragments contained in the plastic bag found in box n°3. 5 of them were glazed ceramics that we identified as the typically Roman Samian ware. Four of them were shards of fired clay pottery, and the remaining one was a bit of plaster. All of these can be identified as belonging to the Roman period, while the rest of the collection belongs to the Chalcolithic period.

This information could be particularly helpful in identifying the site of origin of these items, as both the site and precise age of these items are still unknown to us. The presence of both Samian ware and Chalcolithic tools on the site strongly suggest that it was occupied from the Copper Age until the Roman occupation, at least. In that case, it means that we are probably looking for a relatively important site. We are still working on identifying the site and time periods, as well as confirming the function of some objects of box n°3, and should soon reach satisfying conclusions.

Many thanks for all your hard work recording, photographing, and researching this material, Dalva!




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Photographing Old Books

When The Pitt Rivers Museum acquired “Our Ancient Monuments” written by the man (Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers) himself, the School of Archaeology’s Ian Cartwright photographed the book for them to add to their ‘Documenting Pitt-Rivers‘ project.

Want to see how it was done?

Many thanks to Ian for sharing this photograph with us!

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New Book! ‘Ark of Civilization: Refugee Scholars and Oxford University 1930-1945’

We’re delighted that our edited volume Ark of Civilization: Refugee Scholars and Oxford University 1930-1945 which took up much of our time and energy last year is now OUT.

When we started researching the Jacobsthal archive at the Institute of Archaeology, we had the great pleasure of meeting a number of researchers who were also working on the histories and archives of other refugee scholars at Oxford. Coinciding with an exhibition on Jacobsthal at the Town Hall in Oxford in 2012, we held a workshop, hosted by Jas Elsner at Corpus Christi College in the (highly appropriate) Fraenkel room, named after refugee scholar Prof. Eduard Fraenkel (we later discovered Jacobsthal had been instrumental in arranging his move from Germany to Oxford).

As it turned out, the workshop was just the tip of the iceberg of uncovering history of the myriad of refugee scholars in the arts and humanities who passed through, engaged with, or eventually found refuge in Oxford.

The resulting volume is a step towards acknowledging the importance of Oxford’s role in rescuing, helping along, and sheltering refugees in the art and humanities, and the immense value they brought to Oxford in return. We were not aiming for an encyclopaedic tome on every scholar who passed through the city, though there is no doubt such a book needs to be written. Equally, there is a lack of knowledge on the history of women scholars, which will need addressing in future research. What we wanted to do through Ark of Civilization was to explore Oxford as an ‘ark of knowledge’ – a refuge, a meeting point, and a centre of thought in the arts and humanities. The contributors to the volume take up this theme, sometimes through individual refugee stories and sometimes looking at the University’s institutions, drawing on archives, oral histories and private collections.

There are important lessons to be learned by looking at the way in which a university and city – which had been, pre-war, essentially provincial, insular and self-contained (even by 1937 83% of Oxford Fellows had been undergraduates at the University) – adapted and transformed in the process of welcoming hundreds of refugee scholars and their families.

One strand that emerges is the importance of individuals on the British side, who worked incredibly hard to do the right thing against often overwhelming odds. These same individuals appear time and time again in the refugee stories, arranging money, papers, and even welcoming refugees to live with them. Their story is only alluded to, and will need looking at in much more detail.

Similarly, it was only by beginning to tell the refugee academic’s stories that we became aware of how much the university and city collectively owed and still owes them. This extraordinary group of Continental classicists, historians, artists, archaeologists, lawyers, philosophers, musicians, and philologists changed the university as transformative new ideas, courses, and institutions flooded in. This legacy still continues today.

A huge ‘thank you’ to all our contributors: Anthony Grenville, Laurence Brockliss, Philip Davies, Harold Mytum, Katharina Lorenz, David Gill, Christopher Stray, Oswyn Murray, Charmian Brinson, Marian Malet, Kate Lowe, Conrad Leyser, Fran Lloyd, Ann Rau Dawes, Rachel Dickson, Alexander Cullen, Bojan Bujic, Anna Teicher, Graham Whitaker, Anna Nyburg, and Rahel Feilchenfeldt.


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