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Visitors to Avebury and other names

Denis Grant King’s (DGK) journals, written during and after his time spent at Avebury in the 1930s, are rich repositories of names. King notes down site visitors, correspondents, and more. As I’ve been transcribing his journals, I’ve noticed some names appearing frequently, or in contexts which suggest them as important types. I found this fascinating and so decided to do a little research for no other reason than to satisfy my own curiosity. And then I thought, “if I’m interested, other people might be too”; and so here is the first of what is intended to be several occasional nlogs about these people.

I should have come up with some witty heading along the lines of Avebury Additions, or Excavating Extras but alas, I seem to have lost my little pot of inspiration. Maybe you can come up with something suitable? Suggestions in the comments please.

Avebury Visitors: Part One (16 August to 20 August 1938)

Thursday, August 18th 1938 

(1732623-001-016). When DGK first arrived at Avebury he had a letter of introduction with him written by OGS Crawford

Page 16 of DGK's 'Journal One', accession number 1732623-001. The journal has been opened and photographed at a double page spread, showing Denis Grant King's handwriting. We are transcribing the full text of this image as part of the project.
Page 16 of DGK’s ‘Journal One’, accession number 1732623-001.

Osbert Guy Stanhope Crawford, CBE, FBA, FSA was a man who worked largely as the Archaeological Officer for the Ordnance Survey, plotting the locations of archaeological sites. He specialised in Prehistoric archaeology and wrote many books on the subject. During World War Two, as part of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, he made maps and took photographs of the German positions on the Front Line. In 1927 he founded  “Antiquity: A Quarterly Review of Archaeology”, which remains one of THE pre-eminent archaeological journals. The Avebury archive also contains many letters between Crawford and others, including a satirical letter to the Modern Mystic magazine.

Saturday, August 20th 1938 

(1732623-001-023). At Woodbury DGK saw an excavation taking place on the crest of a hill in sight of Salisbury Cathedral (these excavations would later be called “Woodbury I and II”). Here he was introduced to Charles William Phillips who was the Hon Secretary of the Prehistoric Society, and a tutor or professor at Oxford, who was in Salisbury on vacation. DGK describes Phillips as “a fine tall Saxon type, with the muscles of a navvy, aged perhaps 45, with small — almost immature — moustache, and brown to fairish hair”. CWP was also an archaeologist who led the 1939 excavation of Sutton Hoo, and in 1946 replaced OGS Crawford as the Archaeology Officer for the Ordnance Survey.

Page 23 of DGK's 'Journal One', accession number 1732623-001. The journal has been opened and photographed at a double page spread, showing Denis Grant King's handwriting. We are transcribing the full text of this image as part of the project.
Page 23 of DGK’s ‘Journal One’, accession number 1732623-001.

(1732623-001-023). While at the above-mentioned Woodbury excavations, DGK was also introduced to Dr Gerhard Bersu of Frankfurt and his wife Maria (although DGK never mentioned Maria by name). They were a German couple who had left Germany on account of Gerhard’s Jewish heritage (on the maternal side). DGK describes him as presenting a very comical figure, short and dumpy, round moon-like face, very genial, somewhat discoloured teeth, blue eyes and brownish hair; dressed in loose sail-cloth trousers to the middle caff, a coat of weaving not generally seen in seen in England, and an old greenish Homberg with feathers and heather stuck in the band at the back.

DGK notes that Gehard “spoke in peculiar broken English”, and gives the example of what Gehard was calling “rocking seats” were actually “working seats”. What DGK seemed to be unaware of was Dr Bersu’s ingenious ability to interpret archaeological features. Far from being a ‘dumpy man in strange clothes and an old hat’, the revolutionary excavation techniques employed at this excavation by Gerhard that changed the way Iron Age Britain was interpreted. Before Dr Bersu’s arrival, it was common belief that Iron Age people lived in pits (as DGK mentions in his journal entries). However, by proving that these pits were not dwellings but had been dug for food storage, Dr Bersu was able to prove that Iron Age people lived in Round Houses.

While Dr Bersu was conducting DGK over the site, their group was approached by Lieutenant Colonel Charles Douglas Drew, the curator of Dorset County Museum (DGK mistakenly refers to this as “Dorchester Museum”) and the Secretary to the Dorset Natural History and Archaeology Society. When he died in 1956 The Drew Trust was set up in his name. Even today, this Trust gives outstanding A-Level History students prize money if they attend university.

Page 26 of DGK's 'Journal One', accession number 1732623-001. The journal has been opened and photographed at a double page spread, showing Denis Grant King's handwriting. We are transcribing the full text of this image as part of the project.
Page 26 of DGK’s ‘Journal One’, accession number 1732623-001.

(1732623-001-026). This entry, a continuation of the 20th August, doesn’t include anyone famous, but it shines a little light onto William Young’s life, and his family’s political interests. William is in charge of the excavations at Avebury and DGK is finishing the day by visiting Mr Young’s family home where he meets Mr Young, senior.  On the sideboard he sees two newspapers: The Daily Herald and “Action”. You’re probably wondering why this is worth noting? In those days, The Daily Herald was seen as a newspaper that supported the Labour Party and was aimed at the “working man”. However, Action was a newspaper published by Oswald Mosely’s British Union of Fascists. We don’t know yet what Young senior’s political leanings were, but it raises interesting questions about the circulation of ideas across the country at the time.

Denis was a busy guy on 20th August 1938. I wonder how often he looked back over his diaries and remembered the people he met?

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How to build Avebury: with Denis Grant King

I’m volunteer Kiri, studying for a Masters in Cultural Heritage in Southampton. My job for now is to check the photos and catalogues that have been captured so far. The first step is to check that the photos are clear, complete and standardised. Then make sure the description of the photo and other information in the catalogue matches the photo. I have also been creating catalogue information from scratch when needed. This work is a nice experience for me because it is usually very difficult for people to have access to and view all the archives in a museum’s collection. And the Avebury archives often have some interesting pictures.

This hand-drawn picture is from archaeologist Dennis Grant King, and caught my eye while I was checking the catalogue. The title is ‘Methods employed for transporting and the erection of megaliths’, and unfortunately it is undated, but possibly produced between 1940-1950. In fact this piece caught my attention because it is so exquisitely composed, simple but not simplistic. And I’m sure many people who come across Avebury have similar questions about how the ancient people moved and erected these huge and heavy stones during the Neolithic period. This drawing by King gives a reasonable speculation.

Here is an image of a watercolour drawing by Denis Grant King. It is on cream paper, in red, blue, green, and black inks, showing neolithic people erecting a stone at Avebury.
‘Methods employed for transporting and the erection of megaliths’ drawing by Denis Grant King, Alexander Keiller Museum accession number 20000577-008.

King suggests that Avebury’s megaliths were moved by wooden rollers. People put wooden rollers on the ground and used the rolling of the wooden rollers to keep the megaliths moving. The use of ropes can also make it less difficult to manoeuvre giant stones. When lifting heavy objects, the use of ropes allows the lifting force of multiple people to be combined, reducing the amount of weight each person needs to carry.

The erection of the boulder depicted in the picture was carried out by means of ramp and lever. Inclined planes reduce the force required to move heavy objects, and wood placed on a slope lessens the friction between the object and the ground. Due to the force of gravity, the megalith could slide down the ramp into the stone hole. Plus the use of long wood for leverage saves the force needed to erect the megalith. The friction stakes standing at the other side of the Stone hole helped to keep the megalith balanced without falling over towards the far side of the stone-hole, whilst also preventing the stone from damaging the edge of the stone-hole as it slid into it.

In Smith’s edited volume ‘Windmill hill and avebury: excavations by Alexander Keiller, 1925-1939’, reference is made to evidence of construction techniques found by archaeologists at Avebury in the 1960s. The archaeologist Richard Atkinson suggested that the most efficient way of transporting monoliths was sleds and rollers, although these two methods may not necessarily have been used. And the process of erecting the stone vertically probably used levers and ropes.

Smith explains some of the evidence found in the holes at the base of the megaliths. Sometimes varying numbers of stakes have been inserted against the back side of the base of the stone hole to reduce the friction between the megaliths and the edge of the stone hole. In addition, some smaller stones have been found at the bottom of the stone hole, perhaps acting as another anti-friction device and also providing support for the megaliths. After the megalith was erected, the space around the megalith would have been filled with earth and sarsen packing stones to support the stone and keep it standing.

King’s suggestion of how the megaliths were moved and erected is partly similar to Atkinson’s and Smith’s views, including the use of wooden rollers, levers and ropes. And archaeological evidence proves that when erecting boulders, Neolithic people used ramps and stakes to reduce friction.

Reference

Windmill hill and Avebury: excavations by Alexander Keiller, 1925-1939, ed. by Isobel Smith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1965), pp. 218-222.

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Cool Finds of the Month

During photography in the Stables library attic, we’re continuing to find a lot of interesting drawings, posters, and maps, some are archaeological, and others are a bit different. Here are a select few.

This cartoon was made by Denis Grant King During the 1939 excavation of the South East sector at Avebury. The cartoon has captions describing people and their day-to-day activities on the excavation site. It’s worth zooming in for details.

Denis Grant King Cartoon  of the 1939 Avebury excavation, accession number 20004595
Denis Grant King Cartoon of the 1939 Avebury excavation, accession number 20004595.

Stuart Piggott was well-known for doing quick sketches and cartoons when he had a free five minutes. We have many within our collection here at Avebury. This one below is my personal favourite – a strange creature sneaks into a room, with the caption “a regrettable error has unfortunately crept it”.

Cartoon by Stuart Piggott, Accession number 20004596. showing a  creature crawling through a partially open door. Captioned "a regrettable error has unfortunately crept in
Cartoon by Stuart Piggott, Accession number 20004596.

After the 1934 and 1935 West Kennet Avenue excavations archaeologist Denis Grant King drew up some of the flints found during the excavations. The flint drawings below show all the worked areas of the flints as well as cross sections of the flint. These drawings are a just few of the ones we have, they are all grouped together under Accession Number: 20004991.

The graph below, accessioned at 20000573-014-001 was also created by Denis Grant King. The graph shows the distance between the standing stones in the North West and South West sectors of Avebury.

bar graph showing the distance between standing tines in the north west and south west sectors of Avebury
Graph of stone distances created by Denis Grant King, 20000573-014-001.

Whilst we know little about the map below, we do know it was produced in 1935. The map itself shows the path of 32 different historical sea voyages dating between 600 BCE and 1906. It shows everything from Columbus’ voyages to Hudson’s discovery of the Hudson River! It’s not clear why exactly it’s in the Keiller archive, but someone must’ve thought it was of interest at some point in time – perhaps it helps us think about Avebury in context of world history?

Map of the world with sailing journeys taken by famous adventurers and explorers shown
“The Great Discoveries” Map, accession number 20004686-001.