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Creating a teaching resource with the Avebury archive

[Editor’s note: Kiri completed a student placement with the Avebury Papers as part of her masters’ programme at University of Southampton. The team are so happy to publish one of the key outcomes of the placement here. You can more about Kiri’s experience in her first blog post. The downloadable teaching materials may be found at the bottom of this post.]

I am almost at the end of my placement at Avebury Papers this term. During my placement, I worked on a very interesting project: creating a teaching resource for high school students based on the Avebury archives and excavated artefacts. The main objective is to take them on an exploration of how 20th century archaeologists worked on Avebury.

My key inspiration for the teaching resource was this illustration:

A pen illustration by Stuart Piggott, 1935. Alexander Keiller Museum Accession Number 20004597-001.

This drawing was a gift from Stuart Piggott to a friend in 1935. Many of the elements in the image are related to archaeology, such as the skull, pottery, books, maps and working tools. It reveals to some extent the daily work of archaeologists: maps represent archaeological field surveys, working tools signify archaeological excavations, skeletons and pottery are finds from excavations, and books indicate records of archaeological discoveries.

In my previous placement tasks (which I discuss in this blog), while checking photographs and creating catalogue information, I explored hundred of items in the Alexander Keiller museum collection. I observed that many of the items relate to archaeological work carried out by archaeologists at Avebury. They thoroughly documented the survey and excavation of Avebury, producing beautiful maps and plans, and drawings of the artefacts, as well as interpretive drawings.

Inspired by this exquisite drawing by Stuart Piggott, I decided that the key question for the teaching resource would be how 20th century archaeologists worked on Avebury. Using the digitised archives from the Avebury Papers as a starting point, I created a teachers’ introduction, presentation script, and powerpoint slides to introduce a range of archaeological activities by 20th-century archaeologists at Avebury including fieldwork, mapping, archaeological excavation and artefact analysis. 

“How 20th Century Archaeologists Worked on Avebury”, a resource for teachers and students

In my design, the pedagogy of this resource is divided into four main parts.

The aim of the first section is to help students understand what archaeologists do. This section covers the process and purpose of fieldwork, the purpose and elements of mapping, the main stages of archaeological excavation, and the recording and drawing of artefacts.

Secondly, after students understand the basic steps of archaeological work and the methods of drawing artefacts, they are encouraged to choose artefacts that interest them and then try to draw them. Hands-on practice can give students a deeper understanding of how archaeologists observe and record artefacts.

Thirdly, after the indoor activities, students could be taken on a tour of Avebury to explain the archaeological features, historical significance and cultural background of Avebury. Previously learnt theoretical knowledge can be translated from this step into practical experience. With a site visit, students would be able to see the megaliths for themselves and interact with the landscape, touch the stones, listen to the sounds of nature, and observe the changes in light and shadow on the monuments. Students would be able to gain a fuller appreciation of Avebury from an archaeologist’s perspective.

Finally, at the end of the research and investigation of Avebury, a seminar could be organised to allow students to reflect on what aspects of the site interested them most. Students would be guided to use the Avebury archive and other resources to explore a wider range of Avebury-related topics and then freely present their findings.

Avebury artefacts

As the main teaching element involves artefact drawing, photographs of artefacts excavated at Avebury are essential. Ben Chan has provided some very clear and useful photos of the artefacts for this purpose. 

A pottery bowl from Avebury.

For example this pottery bowl comes from the burials at the foot of stones of the Avebury complex. It can be observed to have a relatively curved line with outwardly sloping edges, a slightly inwardly tapering neck, widest at the shoulder, and then an inwardly sloping belly. It also has a hand-carved geometric pattern on its surface. These rich details provide very helpful examples for practicing artefact drawing. 

Reflecting on the placement

The process of producing this teaching resource has also been a rewarding experience for me. My understanding of the archaeological process and the importance of the Avebury site has been enhanced through in-depth study of the Avebury archive. The designing of teaching resources has also honed my skills in educational pedagogy and curriculum development. The design of engaging and informative lesson plans requires careful consideration of the target audience (high school students), their learning needs, and the best ways to effectively communicate complex archaeological concepts.

I have become more acutely aware of the value of experiential learning and hands-on activities to attract students and develop deeper understanding. Although time was short and there was no opportunity to put this teaching resource to use, I hope that in the future it will help more young people to learn about archaeology, inspire interest in archaeology, and develop a sense of stewardship, preservation, and appreciation of archaeological sites among students and the wider community. I hope that teachers will use this resource in history or even arts classes, as archaeology as a subject is no longer available as a qualification in secondary schools. This experience not only broadened my knowledge, but also inspired me to learn more about my profession and apply it in practice. 


Downloads

You may freely view, download, reuse, and remix the teaching resource below. This introduction is designed with History teachers in mind, however, it can be used by anyone. We’d love to know if you do use it, please leave comments below.

Part One: an introduction

This introduction explains how the resource was designed, and how you might use it to learn more about archaeology.

Part Two: presentation script

This script accompanies the presentation slides, linked below. It may be used by teachers, or read by anyone with any interest in archaeology or history.

Part Three: presentation slides

These slides accompany the presentation script, linked above. It may be used by teachers, or read by anyone with any interest in archaeology or history.

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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.

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.

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.

A black and white photographic portrait captioned ‘CWP’. Photo Album F compiled by Alexander Keiller, undated, possibly Knap Hill c. 1937-1939. Accession number 78510305, at page 48.

(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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Blog Keiller cuttings

Pinning down the Keiller cuttings – Part 7 (all done for now)

This blog post is part of a series: you may want to read Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5, and Part 6 first.

We now have, for the very first time, an accurate mapping of the 1934 excavation cuttings that can be used to locate the various features and finds that Keiller and his team excavated, recovered and recorded. There is still work to do. As you will see, these are the basic cutting shapes and as a result all of the various extensions and alterations I talked about in blog post 5 will need to be added in due course. But it’s a solid start.

As this is digital data, we can use a nifty piece of software called a Geographical Information System (GIS for short) to explore and analyse spatial patterns and relationships at a host of scales. 

The cuttings displayed using a GIS

This is important as it will not only allow us to anchor the various elements of the site archive in space, but it also enables us to directly relate Keiller’s findings to the results of other archaeological fieldwork that has taken place since the 1930s.

Take for example the results of a geophysical survey (soil resistance) that was undertaken  on the Avenue line in 2012 in advance of a campaign of excavation (2013 – 15). When we combine these results with the 1934 data we are immediately able to see how well the geophysical survey data has detected Keiller’s cuttings. We can do the same with the 2013-5 trenches and the features revealed by these more recent excavations.

The 2012 resistivity survey results alongside the newly geo-referenced cuttings plan.

So far so good, but you do not need a GIS in order to view and access the 1934 cuttings. Everyone can make use of the newly located cuttings data using free software such as Google Earth. To that end I have created Google Earth compatible files that everyone can use in order to place Keiller’s 1934 cuttings back into the landscape.  

I now need to find a way to share these files with you – so please watch this space!

That’s it for this part of the blog. Next will be 1935, when Keiller decided to take a very different approach to laying out his excavation cuttings; an approach that raises a new set of problems and challenges. See you then. 

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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.
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Pinning down the Keiller cuttings – Part 6 (let’s get digital)

This blog post is part 6 of a series: you may want to read Part 1Part 2Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 first. You can find Part 7 linked at the bottom of the page.

Having reconstructed the process and produced an analogue plot of the final grid arrangement, I was ready to replicate the process ‘on the digital ground’ within a Geographical Information System (GIS).

My starting point was not Keiller’s A-B-C baseline laid out across the line of the Avenue (discussed in Blog post 2) but instead the two points A and B where the sides of Keiller’s corridor intersected the fence that closed off the southern end of the field. Whilst the material of the fence has undoubtedly been replaced since 1934, its line is still in position, as evidenced by a marked lynchet. Keiller had recorded a measurement from its junction with the road to point B, and the distance from B to A could be calculated thanks to Pythagoras. This is exactly what I needed – recognisable 1934 locations that were locatable today. 

The survey grid meets the southern fence line. In Keiller’s 1934-5 West Kennet Avenue Plotting Book, accession number 78510469.

Using these known points to light the blue touchpaper, I then converted Keiller’s meticulously measured distances into metric units and used the GIS to recreate his survey. I did this in two blocks, either side of the 6 degree pivot marked by the Triangle of Correction. 

Quality control came in the form of a pair of measurements Keiller took from the midpoint of cutting VIII (at a point he called ‘E’ – see below) along a line perpendicular to the long axis of the grid. 

Keiller reaches out. 1934-5 West Kennet Avenue Plotting Book, accession number 78510469.

He extended this line until it reached the fence lines bordering the Avenue field to either side and made a record of the distances. When this line was recreated digitally to Keiller’s measurements the endpoints fell within 7cm of the fence-line to the west and 20cm to the east. 

Contains vector map data © Crown copyright and database rights 2023 Ordnance Survey (100025252)

The final check was a simple one: did the end of the grid fall within the northernmost E-W boundary fence? I was mindful that the Avenue line ran up slope for a portion of its course, which meant that Keiller’s chained measurements were not taken on perfectly flat ground (as recorded on the modern map). To put this another way, at times he was measuring slope distances instead of horizontal distances (i.e. the hypotenuse rather than adjacent). Yet I was plotting his measurements as though they were taken on flat ground. Over the 450m or so total length of the grid this could result in stretching.

Using height data derived from LiDAR (and three cups of strong coffee), I measured the rise and fall between each pair of 100’ grid points. I then converted the slope distances into horizontal distances to determine how much stretch had potentially occurred. Across the full 450m this amounted to only 17cm. Stretch was not an issue. Although the fence here had long gone, the lynchet was preserved in the LiDAR data and this could be used to recreate the fence line. Plotting the cuttings against this showed a good fit. 

Contains vector map data © Crown copyright and database rights 2023 Ordnance Survey (100025252) & LiDAR data © Environment Agency copyright and/or database right 2015. All rights reserved.

Was I happy with +/- 20cm? After 89 years I certainly was. Especially given the lack of fixed reference points between 1934 and today. Given the high likelihood that there had been some degree of movement in the precise placement of the fences, the slope effects, not to mention the inherent precision and accuracy of the Ordnance Survey digital data I was fixing the grids against, this was perfectly acceptable.

So… almost done. In the final blog post I will look at the final steps that were taken in order to create these digital maps of the 1934 cuttings. 

Click here to read the final blog post in this series.

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Pinning down the Keiller cuttings – Part 5 (over-zealous planning & creative turns of phrase)

This blog post is part of a series: you may like to explore Part 1Part 2Part 3, and Part 4 first.

Although I promised that this post would cover the process of geo-referencing – i.e. locating Keiller’s cutting grid on the ground today – I would like to briefly digress and talk a little about the tweaks and alterations Keiller had to make as he went along. In other words, Keiller’s extensions to the grid.

These ‘extensions’ capture for me the essence of Keiller’s perhaps overly meticulous approach. They also hint at his rather long-winded and idiosyncratic writing style* – if you do not believe me compare the text of the 1936 Antiquity interim (penned by Keiller & Piggott) with the 1939 interim (penned by Keiller alone). The latter is chewy.

Keiller’s extensions. 1934-5 West Kennet Avenue Plotting Book, accession number 78510469.

As I noted in previous blog posts, Keiller’s approach to setting out the West Kennet Avenue trenches was rigid and meticulous – ruler-straight baselines and regular gridded corridors of equally sized cuttings laid out to track the course of the paired standing stones.

Sadly, the Avenue itself did not play ball, its course gently curving and arcing as it plodded its way north towards the Avebury henge. To cope with this Keiller took the decision to pivot the entire grid 6 degrees to the northeast, as discussed in blog post 4. He also surveyed in a series of regular geometric extensions to the basic grid to enable his cuttings to encompass the full positions of the component standing stones and other features (such as post holes).

Keiller extends. 1934-5 West Kennet Avenue Plotting Book, accession number 78510469.

I’d have called them extensions (if I called them anything at all). Keiller was more creative. As a result as we read through the notebooks and peruse the plans we encounter the rather lovely Triangle of Extension along with the Trapezium of Extension, the Parallelogram of Extension and the Square of Extension. They sound like cool band names. 

Trapezium of extension. 1934-5 West Kennet Avenue Plotting Book, accession number 78510469.

And things could get complicated, as progressive excavation revealed the need for extensions to extensions, leading to my favourite, the frankly awesome Parallelogram of Further Extension. Needless to say, the 6 degree pivot was made possible by the terrifying sounding Triangle of Correction.

Yikes. Extending extensions. 1934-5 West Kennet Avenue Plotting Book, accession number 78510469.

Next stop: geo-referencing. I promise. 

* the irony in me – a notoriously long-winded and prolix writer – calling Keiller out on his wordiness has not been wasted.

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Pinning down the Keiller Cuttings – Part 4

This blog post is part of a series: read Part 1 here, Part 2 here, and Part 3 here.

If the West Kennet Avenue had followed a largely straight line (as John Aubrey portrayed it in a drawing carried out shortly after his survey in September 1663), Keiller’s 80’ wide corridor would have done the job. Unfortunately its course was rather sinuous (hats off to William Stukeley) as indicated by a single surviving stone (Keiller’s #34, Smith’s 21A) on the other side of the road running along the eastern edge of the field.

Stukeley’s interpretation of the Avebury landscape, via Wikicommons.

As a result Keiller knew that sooner or later his corridor of regular blocks and cuttings would have to pivot. This eventually came at a distance of just over 243m (800’) from the fence marking the southern end of the field, though it was clear from about 180m that the line of paired standing stones was drifting to the east of the corridor axis. This in turn prompted some nimble footwork (tapework?) on the part of Keiller to modify and extend his cuttings – more about these in a later post.

You can get a sense of the drift from the photograph below I took from the midpoint of the avenue on the southern boundary fence looking northwards towards Avebury.

 

Looking North towards Avebury through West Kennet Avenue.

So, using point R as the pivot (marking the 800’ point and north-eastern corner of block VIII – check out the sketch in post #3), he tilted the axis of the entire grid 6 degrees to the east. And then carried on.

Never missing a chance to repurpose a unique identifier, the original north-west corner of block VIII (point Q) was replaced by point Q* precisely 2.499m (8.2’) away. The corridor then trundled on until it met the boundary of the field long its northern edge, slowly intersecting the fenceline on the east as it did so. And that was essentially that.

Pivotting and plotting.

As a visual thinker, the plotting out by hand of the cuttings has proven invaluable in helping me to make sense of the complex textual descriptions and step-by-step annotated drawings in Keiller’s Plotting book. I now understand better not only what he had done, but how he went about doing it.

The next step will be to replicate this digitally in the GIS. The first stage in that process is going to be identifying points on the digital ground today (i.e. the Ordnance Survey map coverage) that correspond to points established in 1934 by Keiller. More of that in the next post

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Pinning down the Keiller Cuttings – Part 3 (scheming and plotting)

This blog post is part of a series: read Part 1 here, and read Part 2 here.

I have a confession. Much as I admire his surveying chops, Keiller’s approach to numbering and labelling (stones, cuttings, whatever) leaves me sobbing.

Let me give you a flavour of what I mean. In an earlier post I mentioned that he liked to re-use letter codes for reference points and survey datums/stations. Taking 1934 as an example, ‘A’ and ‘B’ could refer to the mid and end point of the original line he surveyed running across the axis of the Avenue line or the points where the baselines bounding his 80’ wide corridor intersected the fence at the southernmost end of Mr. Peake-Garland’s Waden Hill Field. Take a look at the drawing below from the plotting book and you will see what I mean.

Where the survey blocks met the southernmost fence line crossing the field

But the real fun has yet to start. He numbered his individual 100 x 80’ survey blocks from south to north, using Roman numerals – I, II, III, IV etc… Each of these blocks in turn contained a total of sixteen 25 x 20’ sub-cuttings – four rows of four. The individual sub-cuttings were given Arabic numbers – also incrementing from south to north – and always indicated in superscript. To differentiate between the two rows of cuttings that ran up either side of the line of 100 x 80’ blocks – i.e. that theoretically tracked the lines of paired megaliths – he used L (Left) and R (Right). However, in deciding which side was Right and which Left, instead of facing north towards Avebury, he faced South, away from it. So… the 3rd cutting of the fourth block on the western side of the Avenue would be sub-cutting IV3R. Its partner on the eastern side would be IV3L. As for the two rows of 25 x 20’ cuttings running down the centre of the Avenue line Keiller added a C to indicate that a given code referred to a central sub-cutting (e.g IV3RC and IV3LC). It was so overwrought that the plotting book included a dedicated diagram to demystify it (see below). 

The key to Keiller’s labelling schema

And it gets worse. Keiller gave the corners of each 100 x 80’ block a letter code, moving up through the alphabet from south to north. The diagram I have sketched out below should hopefully clarify.

codes and datums everywhere

In his descriptions and in plotting book diagrams, the corners of the subdivisions of the cuttings are labelled with respect to these corner designations. So the 2nd sub-cutting on the ‘Right’ hand side of block VI would be designated VI2R and its corner points (moving clockwise) K1, K2, K2L and K1L. Take a look at the subdivision plan below (more on subdivisions and extensions in the next post) and you will get a sense of the complexity that is piling up – and this is just in laying out the trenches.

labelling the sub-cuttings

My final note on the coding relates to the individual standing stones themselves. Here Keiller took a refreshingly simple approach. Each megalith had its own number, starting at the southern extent of his excavation area with standing stone 1 and then incrementing as he moved northwards towards Avebury. So, the southernmost stone pair in Waden Hill Field = stones 1 and 2. The next pair to the north 3 and 4, and so on. Odd numbers on the Right (western) side, even numbers on the Left (eastern) side.

When Isobel Smith produced her synthetic publication of the Avenue excavations, she renumbered. Instead of individual megaliths, she numbered stone pairs (using A to indicate Left and B to indicate Right). She also flipped the numbering strategy on its head, starting at Avebury with Pair 1 and incrementing as one moves south. The logic was faultless: there were undoubtedly more stones waiting to be discovered to the south of Keiller’s Pair 1 and 2, and her approach allowed meaningful numbers to be assigned to them. Irony is in the eye of the beholder, but for me it did add a layer of complexity to what was probably Keiller’s least torturous schema.

That’s me done for now. In the next post we will look at what Keiller did when things did not go to plan (no pun intended).

Read Part 4 of this series by clicking here.

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Blog Keiller cuttings

Pinning down the Keiller Cuttings – Part 2 (Keiller makes a point)

Plotting out the excavation cuttings (a work very much in progress)

Last week Mark shared Part 1 of this series – read it here first.

Next step is to recreate Keiller’s excavation grid using the step-by-step measurements and drawings in his 1934-5 Plotting Book. I could have taken a digital approach from the outset, but to limber up, and better understand how the grid of planned excavation cuttings slowly unfolded on the 10th of April 1934, I began by hand-plotting his measurements, to scale, on a sheet of drawing film.

It all began for Keiller with the setting up of a point on the central axis of the Avenue line. The focus of the 1934 excavation was Mr. Peake-Garland’s main Waden Hill field; a strip running north-south alongside the road linking Avebury to West Kennett. Keiller started by establishing a centre line along the main axis of the Avenue at the southernmost end of the field, where 11 surviving stones could be seen (9 fallen and 2 still standing as a pair). He used a tape to measure the midpoint between the southernmost duo of fallen stones (37A and 37B using Smith’s numbering scheme) and did the same between the surviving upright stones 33A and 33B. He then joined the dots to create a notional line running down the centre of the Avenue and established a reference point (labelled A) on this line.

Keiller’s cuttings 1, 2, and 3, showing points A, B, C, D, E, F, G and H along West Kennet Avenue. A page from the 1934 plotting book, accession number 78510469 at the Alexander Keiller Museum.

Using a theodolite the next step was to set out two points perpendicular to A and at a distance of 40’ (12.19m) to the approximate east (C) and west (B) respectively. These points marked the east and westernmost extensions of the grid needed to encompass the width of the Avenue line. So far so good. Using this line of 3 points as a reference, Keiller then set out an 80’ (24.38m) wide corridor running to the northwest towards Avebury. This corridor was subdivided along its length into a series of numbered 100’ x 80’ (30.48 x 24.38m) blocks which were in turn subdivided into parallel lines of 25’ by 20’ (7.62 x 6.09m) cuttings designed to capture the locations of Avenue stones (more on the rather idiosyncratic coding of these blocks and sub-divisions in the next post).

What Keiller and his team had achieved with a theodolite and 100’ survey chains, I was mirroring using a sharp pencil, drawing film and graph paper; working page by page through the plotting book…

Click here to read Part 3.