Posted by Jennifer Wexler on

The Devizes/Wiltshire Museum Collection in the Bronze Age Index

In the process of digitising the Bronze Age Index ( we have come across a small collection of Index cards recording artefacts in the Wiltshire Museum (formerly the Devizes Museum: This was recently written up by Culture24 (, highlighting our ongoing collaboration with the Wiltshire Museum as we continue to research this collection.

"Stonehenge World Heritage Site map 2" by RobinLeicester building on OS OpenData VextorMap District Raster files - OS Open Data with additional material cited at World Heritage Site list No 373. Via Wikimedia Commons -

Map of the Stonehenge region, showing some of sites (Lake Down, Normanton, Durrington, Cursus) represented in the Index © Robin Leicester Via Wikimedia Commons –

These cards illustrate over a hundred bronze objects found largely during 18th and 19th century antiquarian investigations of various barrow groups in the regions surrounding the monumental landscapes of Stonehenge and Avebury. These include some of the famous barrow cemeteries found in Salisbury Plain (pictured above), such as the Lake Down Group, Normanton Group (Bush Barrow), and Amesbury Curses, for example:


Riveted dagger from Bush Barrow, Normanton Barrow Group, Salisbury Plain © Trustees of the British Museum


Artefacts from Bush Barrow on display in the Wiltshire Museum © Courtesy Wiltshire Heritage Museum

Artefacts from Bush Barrow on display in the Wiltshire Museum © Courtesy Wiltshire Heritage Museum


Dagger from a barrow found inside the west end of Stonehenge Cursus. © Trustees of the British Museum



Dagger from Lake Down barrow group, Salisbury Plain. © Trustees of the British Museum

Finds from less well-known sites, such as Silk Hill (below) near Durrington, are also represented, with the individual cards compiling the early publication record for each object:


Rare dagger from Silk Hill barrow group, near Durrington. © Trustees of the British Museum



Rare pin from Silk Hill barrow group, near Durrington. © Trustees of the British Museum

As we continue to expand our research into the BA Index, we are planning to connect into new research and developments in British archaeology. For example, the crutch-headed bronze pin pictured (above, and close-up below, right) from Silk Hill, is an infrequent type found in both ‘Wessex 1 and 2’ graves during the later part of the Early Bronze Age. Recent research (S. Needham, M. Parker Pearson, A.Tyler, M. Richards, M. Jay, Antiquity J. 84 (2010)) reassessing antiquarian records and collections at the Wiltshire Museum, showed that another crutch-headed pin (pictured below, left) from West Overton G1 barrow, near Avebury was found with a radiocarbon-dated burial, allowing us to date the Silk Hill burial with a similar pin to around 2020-1770 cal BC.


MBA pins from West Overton G1 barrow (left) and Silk Hill barrow (right). © Trustees of the British Museum

Casual finds from the antiquarian record are also recorded in the Bronze Age Index, including artefacts which have now unfortunately been lost (below) or not well-research.


Lost object recorded in the Index © Trustees of the British Museum

While some of these cards are now out of date information, they do offer us an excellent picture of the early antiquarian discoveries found in the region over 200 years ago, especially those of William Cunnington and Sir Richard Colt Hoare.  Many of these sites would have never been recorded if not for their hard work!

Further collaboration with the Wiltshire Museum, and the integration of the digital resources available via their collection portal ( will allow us to update and expand our records as we continue to expand our research. This information will eventually be integrated into the PAS ( database, making it one of the largest records of prehistoric objects in the UK and the world!

Many thanks to the Wiltshire Museum and Culture24 for collaborating with us on this collection!

Posted by Alex Davies on

Later Bronze Age Ornaments

Bronze Age ornaments form a major category of metal artefact. Those made of gold are some of the most captivating prehistoric objects known to us. They are probably the most personal objects surviving as they were worn on the body and, as is still true today, were a daily and ever-present signaller of identity, status and an individual’s personality.

The term ornament is rather cumbersome and old fashioned, but by this we essentially mean jewellery. This includes rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, objects worn in the hair, dress pins and other types of clothes fasteners. As the ornament data from the Bronze Age Index is about to be put on the MircoPasts website, we thought it would be useful to give a quick introduction to this object category.

Most Bronze Age ornaments are often believed to date within the Middle Bronze Age, c. 1400-1150 BC. This was even known as the ‘Ornament Horizon’, although now other terms are preferred (See ‘Later Prehistoric Britain’ blog by Neil Wilkin and Jennifer Wexler, below). Generally speaking, Middle Bronze Age bronze objects date to the Taunton period (1400-1250 BC), whereas Middle Bronze Age gold dates slightly later to the Penard phase (1300-1140 BC). There are only a small number of ornaments dated to the next 200 years, although we should assume that they were still used. The last 150 years of the Bronze Age (950-800 BC) saw a huge increase in ornament deposition.

Recent and ongoing work by Ben Roberts (2007) on Middle Bronze Age ornaments has done much to enhance our understanding of these objects. His work with colleagues at the British Museum also includes information and fantastic pictures of all European Bronze Age gold objects in the museum, available online at:

Scrolling through these images provides a breathtaking insight into what some people were wearing in the Bronze Age, and the technical ability of Bronze Age smiths.

Middle Bronze Age ornaments are often large and would have been awkward to wear. This includes the ‘Sussex Loop’ bracelets and Quoit Headed pins, whose circular head could reach 15cm in diameter. Other dress pins are over 30cm in length. Clearly in the Middle Bronze Age people suffered for their fashion!


Middle Bronze Age ornaments from East Dean, Peadown hoard, Sussex. The middle pin is 30cm long. The object on the top right is a Sussex Loop bracelet. © Trustees of the British Museum

Middle Bronze Age ornaments from East Dean, Peadown hoard, Sussex. The middle pin is 30cm long. The object on the top right is a Sussex Loop bracelet. © Trustees of the British Museum

Middle Bronze Age gold from the Crow Down hoard, West Berkshire. © British Museum Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)

Middle Bronze Age gold from the Crow Down hoard, West Berkshire. © British Museum Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS)

I have recently undertaken work on Late Bronze Age ornaments. This was for my Masters thesis at Cardiff University. A focus of this was on bracelets, and I have created a new typology that has shown some interesting regional patterns. I have also compiled a catalogue of all known Late Bronze Age ornaments, and analysed patterns in the information.

This has firstly demonstrated that there are many more ornaments dating to this period than is usually appreciated. So far at least 1100 objects date to c.1150-600 BC, of which c.770 belong to the Ewart Park phase of c.950-800 BC. This primarily includes objects made from gold and bronze, but also amber, jet and shale.

These objects are not as large and ostentatious as those in the Middle Bronze Age. They are dominated by a range of pins and bracelets, but there are also more unusual objects made from gold that we don’t know exactly how they were used. This includes small ‘lock-rings’ and ‘penannular rings’. These usually have a gap in their circumference, so I like to think they were worn as earrings after a pierced ear has been stretched to allow for their width. However, not all have these gaps, so there is still debate as to their use. Another idea is that they were used to help tie up clothing or hair. Other unusual gold objects include so-called ‘dress fasteners’ and ‘sleeve fasteners’. These are primarily found in Ireland, but do also appear in Britain. These are both of a very similar form to some bracelets dating to the same period. There seems to be a continuum in the size of these types of objects, with each type merging into the other. As these objects are almost always found as single finds or in hoards, context is not very helpful in understanding how they were used. The only find that is vaguely useful are the two gold penannular rings found with a cremation at Mucking North Ring, Essex (Bond 1988, 14). If anyone has ideas as to how these objects may have been used, please leave a comment!

‘Sleeve fastener’ from Ireland © Trustees of the British Museum

‘Sleeve fastener’ from Ireland © Trustees of the British Museum


Gold bracelet from Morvah, Cornwall © Trustees of the British Museum

Gold bracelet from Morvah, Cornwall © Trustees of the British Museum


‘Dress fastener’ from Islay, Argyll and Bute © Trustees of the British Museum

‘Sleeve fastener’ from Ireland © Trustees of the British Museum


Lock- ring from Cheesburn Grange, Northumberland l © Trustees of the British Museum

Lock- ring from Cheesburn Grange, Northumberland l © Trustees of the British Museum

Lock-ring from Gaerwen, Anglesey © Trustees of the British Museum

Lock-ring from Gaerwen, Anglesey © Trustees of the British Museum

One of the observations that came up in my research is that there are certain patterns in ornament deposition. Firstly, single ornaments very rarely occur alone in hoards. There are also no hoards that contain non-metal ornaments – amber, shale and jet – that do not also contain metallic ornaments. Bracelets also seem to occur only in even numbers or pairs in English hoards. The significance of this pairing is heightened by the few burials we have associated with bracelets. Of the four burials that are accompanied by bracelets, three of these consist of pairs.

Pins are also subject to depositional planning. Although they are occasionally found in hoards, they generally seem to be systematically excluded from these contexts. In fact, they are the only type of object that are more common on settlements than in hoards, and are the only metal object that you might realistically expect to find during the excavation of a Late Bronze Age settlement. Most of these do seem to be genuine accidental loses on settlements. This suggests that some single finds may in fact come from settlements waiting to be excavated!

All this evidence helps to demonstrate that the metalwork corpus that we have is highly selective. We should not assume that it is representational of the range or quantity of material actually present in the Bronze Age. By in large, the content of each hoard reflects only a part of the specific cultural circumstances that led to its deposition; objects that were not deemed relevant to depositional activities could be indefinitely remelted and recycled and never enter the archaeological record. Due to this, we should not exclude the possibility that some bronze present in modern objects was originally smelted and circulated in the Bronze Age!

Penannular ring from Bradwell, Essex © Trustees of the British Museum

Penannular ring from Bradwell, Essex © Trustees of the British Museum

A large number of objects, especially those of gold, have only recently come to light as part of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (; Murgia and Roberts forthcoming). This has only been possible due to the excellent collaboration that is happening between members of the public, especially metal dectectorists, and archaeologists. Input from the public like this is driving research forward. My catalogue has yet to include the objects in the Bronze Age Index, and no doubt the work undertaken by MicroPasts volunteers to digitalise this resource will enhance our understanding of Bronze Age jewellery. Thank you, and I look forward to seeing the results!

Alex Davies

Cardiff University


Bond, D.  1988.  Excavation  at  the  North  Ring,  Mucking,  Essex:  a  Late  Bronze  Age  enclosure. Chelmsford: East Anglian Archaeology 43.

Murgia, A. and Roberts, B. W. forthcoming. ‘What have metal-detectorists ever done for us? Discovering Bronze Age Gold in England and Wales.’ Archeologische Korrespondenzblatt

Roberts, B. W. 2007. ‘Adorning the Living but Not the Dead: Understanding Ornaments in Britain c.1400-1100 cal BC.’ Proceedings of the Prehistoric Society 73. 137-67.

Posted by Robert Kaleta on

PhD project – Analysis of Middle Bronze Age Palstaves

Hi everyone. My name is Robert Kaleta and I am a 1st year PhD student at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, interested in using some of the data generated via the MicroPasts photo-masking applications for my research. For the next 3 years I will be looking very closely at various aspects of the Middle Bronze Age (MBA) metalwork with particular focus on palstaves. Metal artefacts are crucial to our understanding of the Bronze Age, and the ‘palstave’ is one of the period’s most well-known and widely-distributed forms. Analysis of prehistoric metal finds reveals not only technological aspects of production but also wider relationship between metal, metalworkers and prehistoric societies. I am hoping to use the metalwork as an indicator of various social and economic processes occurring during that time, through which the social organisation of Bronze Age communities across Britain can be explored. The project itself will employ a range of techniques, such as point pattern analysis, chemical composition analysis, and geometric morphometrics, to synthesise the existing data and generate new information. Point pattern analysis allows us to understand the spatial relationship between data points, i.e. whether they tend to congregate or not, and at what scales, which can be a useful indicator of the layout of the Bronze Age communities. This approach, when combined with chemical composition analysis can also shed light on metal circulation, reuse and trade networks.


The morphometric analysis aspect of the project is particularly important as one of the main aims of my research is to explore the existing typologies of palstaves. Typologies play a crucial role in the study of the British and European Bronze Age. They have been linked to European-wide chronologies; they defined states and social identities, and exposed the extraordinary extent of trade and exchange during the MBA. However the way in which they had been explored in the past was fairly subjective and the methodology difficult to apply to large data sets that are now available. My aim is to achieve more objective shape properties which can be compared across many objects. One of the ways in which I hope to improve our understanding of the extent of palstave shape variability is through the comparison of their 3 dimensional shapes. This method does not focus on any particular features of the palstaves but compares the overall shape across many objects; removing some of the subjectivity that previous approaches exhibited.

I hope to analyse as many palstaves as possible, starting with the objects held by the British Museum, which should keep me busy for some time. As such, I will use all the masks and resulting 3D models created via the MicroPasts crowd-sourcing site including the two latest apps (Burley & Wylye hoards) and some new ones that will be deployed in the upcoming months. I will do my best to keep everyone updated on my progress and share any interesting findings on the blog, in the meantime if you have any questions regarding the use of 3D models in archaeological research or my own PhD project specifically, feel free to contact me here or on the MicroPasts forum.

Ps. Great work on the Bronze Age Index!


Research funded through the London Arts & Humanities Partnership



Posted by Jennifer Wexler on

Things that go bump in the night: The Selborne-Blackmoor Hoard & the significance of LBA weapon hoards

Part of the Blackmoor Hoard in the British Museum Collections © Trustees of the British Museum

Our new app focuses on the wonderful Blackmoor Hoard (partially pictured above). Known also as the ‘Blackmoor-Wolmer Forest’ or ‘Selborne’ Hoard, the hoard was found near the hamlet of Blackmore (just east of Selborne, Hampshire) on the land that was originally part of Lord Selborne’s estate. Multiple hoards from different periods, including various Romano-British coin hoards, have been found in this region and the area was clearly a focus for prehistoric activity. There is a high concentration of Bronze Age barrows within the area of Woolmer Forest as well as a number of Bronze Age hoards which have been found in the vicinity at Woolmer Forest, Woolmer Pond, Hogmoor, Longmoor Camp and Whitehill Village Hall. The connection between the ritual deposition of bronze weapons and the barrow cemeteries together constitute a particularly well-preserved ritual landscape of the Late Neolithic and Bronze Age periods (Allen 2007).

Like many of the hoards found in the Bronze Age Index (we wrote about the Arreton Down hoard earlier), Selborne is an antiquarian collection, connected to a series of famous collectors of archaeological antiquities including Rev. Greenwell, George Roots, General Pitt-Rivers, and Lord McAlpine.

Both Middle Bronze Age (MBA) and Late Bronze Age (LBA) hoards (an overview of Bronze Age chronology was discussed previously) from the area are featured in the Bronze Age Index. The MBA hoard was found in 1840 and contains two small torcs, four bronze rings and one palstave (pictured below):



MBA hoard from Blackmoor (pictured top), and two BA Index cards illustrating objects from the hoard (bottom) © Trustees of the British Museum

The LBA weapon hoard, discovered in the garden of a cottage near Blackmoor in the spring of 1870, is more famously-known. This hoard has a complicated history of collection. A large part of the hoard was handed over to Lord Selborne, as it was found on his land. He displayed it in the former billiard room of his home Blackmoor House. It currently makes up part of the Selborne Collection now in possession of the Gilbert White Museum, the home of the 19th century naturalist who wrote The Natural History of Selborne (the earliest reference to the hoard was first mentioned Bell’s updated 1877 edition of the volume (White 1877)). This included sword fragments, over twenty large and small spearheads, three rings, some ferrule fragments, and one mysterious ‘grooved socket’ not found anywhere else in BA Britain.

Example of a LBA socketed spearhead (1891,0514.6) originating from the Roots Collection, now in the BM © Trustees of the British Museum

Somehow two large groups of objects from the hoard were separated from the Selborne collection. We have no records of what exactly happened, but some of the hoard was disposed of soon after discovery and sold to two prominent antiquarian collectors, George Roots and Rev. William Greenwell. The Greenwell collection (BM accession numbers WG. 2100-2112, 1269) is composed largely of various spearheads associated to ‘Blackmoor-Woolmer Forest’ and was donated to the British Museum by John Pierpont Morgan in 1908. The Roots collection is larger and more diverse in object types, it is largely composed of spearheads, sword and sword fragments, and cast rings, though it was originally associated to the ‘south of England’ and then ‘Woolmer Forest’. Evidence suggests that the Selborne, Greenwell, and Roots assemblages were all part of the same deposit. Spearhead fragments from the Selborne and Roots Collections fit together, and a number of the short stumpy spearheads in all three collections appear to be made from the same mould (Colquhoun 1979; Colquhoun and Burgess 1988).

Lunette spearhead originating from the Blackmoor Hoard, now in the Metropolitan Museum of Art © MET Museum

The Roots collection was sold by Christies (Christie’s London April 20, 1891, lot 33) to the British Museum in 1891 (BM accession numbers 1891.0514.4-58).  At this sale, one extraordinary example of a lunette spearhead (pictured above and currently part of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art (MET) collection 1998.540.1) was bought by General Pitt-Rivers and displayed in his museum on the Rushmore Estate in Farnham, Dorset. This was a secondary institution founded just after the Pitt Rivers Museum (Oxford) in 1885 focusing on local history and prehistoric crafts from Europe & Asia (MacGregor 1987). The spearhead’s origins in the Roots collection as well as its typological similarity to spearheads found in the Selborne/Blackmoor hoard, for example the slightly smaller lunette spearhead featured in figure 1, suggests that this spearhead does probably come from the same region and hoard. Metallurgical analysis (Northover 1982; Hughes, Northover & Staniaszek 1982) also appears to indicate a similar composition to spearheads directly associated with the Selborne/Blackmoor hoard.

Pitt-Rivers’ personal catalogue entry for the lunette spearhead (1891), courtesy of Prof. Dan Hicks (©Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford).

This spearhead remained in the Pitt Rivers collections until the Farnham Museum closed down in 1966, and much of collections were dispersed to the Salisbury Museum and South Wiltshire Museum as well as some private collectors. Sometime after, the spearhead became part of Lord McAlpine’s extensive collections, published in Antiquities from Europe and the Near East in the Collection of the Lord McAlpine of West Green (MacGregor 1987). After he got involved in the restoration of the Victorian town of Broome in Western Australian, Lord McAlpine sold off much of his private estate and collections, including the spearhead to the New York art dealer Peter Sharrer (The Art Newpaper, 19 January 2014). Sharrer donated the spearhead to the MET in 1998, along some other BA objects originally from the Roots Collection, where it is on display in Room 301, one of the few representations of the British Bronze Age in the museum.

Why is the Selborne/Blackmoor hoard is interesting, and why do we view these LBA weapons, particularly the MET spearhead, as objects of beauty? Extensive analysis by Colquhoun (1979) identified that the typologies of the main artefact groups (spearheads, swords, rings, and chapes) from the hoard fit well into the end of LBA Wilburton (c. 1,140-1,020 B.C.) and beginning of the Ewart Park (1,020-800 B.C.) metalworking traditions.  In fact, the Blackmoor hoard is a sub-period of the Ewart Park phase dating to around 1000-900BC, and it is an important hoard to show the transition between Wilburton and Ewart Park metalworking traditions, which is also seen at a few other sites (Isleham&  Fulbourn Common (Cambridgeshire), Sturry (Kent), and Marston St. Lawrence (Northamptonshire)) in southern England.

Hoards from this period are composed largely of weapon types. In SE England metalwork hoards tend to be more dominated by weapons along the tributaries of the Thames Valley, including the Wey River catchment where the Selborne-Blackmoor hoard was found (Yates and Bradley 2010: 61). While Colquhoun originally interpreted the ‘scrap nature of this hoard’ as representing a ‘founder’s hoard’ (e.g. containing a mix of broken metal objects, ingots, casting waste, and complete objects often for retrieval and/or remelting at a later time), recent research suggests that these objects were being purposely deposited in the ground in a particular, possibly ritualistic, manner.

Rather than actually being weapons used exclusively in everyday struggles or battles, the weapons found in these types of hoards may more likely be representative of social status and a ‘warrior aesthetic’ that developed later in the Bronze Age (Treherne 1995). A recent analysis by Schulting & Bradley (2013) of MBA-EIA skulls found in the Thames shows that almost all exhibit blunt force injuries at a time when the archaeological record is dominated by edged weapons (e.g. swords and spears). This suggests that the main form of injuries in this period were not necessarily caused by sharp bronze weapons, but rather blunt objects!  Not only does this have implications for the massive record of elaborate bronze weapons found in the Thames and other watery locations, but for all weapon hoards.  Perhaps this explains why we get such elaborate and beautiful examples of weapons both from the Thames and from LBA hoards, as the MET describes the Selborne spearhead representing the highest tradition of the British Bronze Age. The piece is undeniably beautiful: its shape is elegant and spare to the point of evoking modern art. The raised rib in the middle, which also outlines the half-moon or lunette openings, may have been designed as a blood channel.

Special thanks to Dan Pett and Neil Wilkins for their assistance on this post!


Burgess C. and D. Coombs, eds.1979. Bronze Age Hoards: Some Finds Old and New. Oxford: BAR British Series 67.

Colquhoun I, 1979. “The Late Bronze Age hoard from Blackmoor, Selborne”, In Burgess and Coombs (eds). Bronze Age Hoards: Some Finds Old and New. Oxford: BAR British Series 67: 99-115.

Colquhoun, I.  and C. Burgess, 1988. The Swords of Britain. Munchen: Prähistorische Bronzefunde (C.H.Beck).

Coombs, D.G., 1975. “Bronze Age Weapon Hoards in Britain”. Archaeologia Atlantica 1: 49-81.

Hughes, M.J., J. P. Northover, and B. E. P. Staniaszek, 1982. “Problems in the Analysis of Leaded Bronze Alloys in Ancient Artefacts”. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 1: 359-364.

MacGregor, Arthur, 1987. Antiquities from Europe and the Near East in the Collection of the Lord McAlpine of West Green. Oxford: Ashmolean Museum.

Needham, S., 1996. “Chronology and Periodisation in the British Bronze Age”. Acta Archaeologica 67, 121–40.

Northover, Peter, 1982. “The Metallurgy of the Wilburton”. Oxford Journal of Archaeology 1: 69-109.

The Art Newspaper, 19 January 2014. Art collector and political fundraiser extraordinaire, Alistair McAlpine has died, aged 71. Obituaries Section:–/31577

Treherne, Paul, 1995. “The Warrior’s Beauty: The Masculine Body and Self-Identity in Bronze-Age Europe”. Journal of European Archaeology 3: 105-144.

White, Gilbert, 1877 The Natural History and Antiquities of Selborne, in the county of Southampton. Edited by Thomas Bell.  London: John Van Voorst.

Yates, David and Richard Bradley, 2010. “The Sitting of Metalwork Hoards in the Bronze Age of South-East England”. The Antiquaries Journal 90: 41-70.



Posted by Ignacio on

3D Models of Olduvai Gorge Handaxes

These two handaxes belong to the EF-HR locality, in Olduvai Gorge (Tanzania). EF-HR is located in the North side of the Olduvai Gorge. It was discovered in 1931 by Sir Evelyn Fuchs and Professor Hans Reck, and named after their initials. The first excavations were undertaken by M. Leakey in 1963, and then by OGAP (Olduvai Geochronology Archaeology Project) since 2009. Both handaxes were found in the surface of the EF-HR outcrops, and therefore their stratigraphic provenance is uncertain; they could have eroded either from Middle/Upper Bed II (around 1.5 myr ago) or from Bed III (slightly more recent), but are definitely older than 1 million years.

EFHR-L0-2 is made of quartzite, probably sourced by hominins from the nearby Naibor Soit, a metamorphic hill located less than 2 km away from EF-HR. This handaxe is poorly shaped, and involves no bifacial flaking. Thus, it is not a real biface, which is a type of stone tool typical of later periods of the Acheulean, but which is rare during the early stages of this technological period. EFHR-L0-17 is made of lava raw material, which was available to hominins as cobbles and boulders in river streams flowing from the volcanic highlands into the Olduvai paleolake. Like EFHR-L0-2, the EFHR-L0-17 handaxe is made on a very large flake, which was then shaped to achieve large cutting tool morphology, and likely used in heavy duty activities involving wood working and animal butchering.

Handaxe EFHR-LO-2

Handaxe EFHR-LO-2

Handaxe EFHR-LO-17

Handaxe EFHR-LO-17

You can view the 3D models created with the help of the crowd here:

Ignacio de la Torre

Posted by Chiara Bonacchi on

MicroPasts Crowd-funding


We’ve just launched the latest part of theMicroPasts project: a crowd-funding website. Have a look at and see if you can help.

Through this website, it is possible to raise up to £5,000 to fund archaeological or historical research projects that have been developed and will be undertaken collaboratively by professionals with institutional links (e.g. working in universities, museums, libraries, etc.) and any volunteer group offline or online. We welcome project proposals from any team,who can be based anywhere in the world. The only kind of activity that we do not fund is excavation.

For more information on how this all works, please see

If you have a project in need of funding, you can submit a proposal online. We will review it and, if it fits the requirements, you will be able to start your fund-raising campaign.

If you have an idea for a project, but don’t know a ‘professional’ archaeologist or historian to partner with, please do post your idea on the MicroPasts community forum ( and we will try to help out.

Thank you!

Chiara, Andy, Dan and Adi
For MicroPasts

Posted by Amara on

In the Lens: George and Agnes Horsfield’s Photographs

Amara Thornton (British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellow, UCL Institute of Archaeology)

“My life has been so lonely – until I met you – dear Comrade … my extraordinary friendship with you – which I gradually found was absorbing the whole of my life – I did not in the least understand – you stood as pure intellect to me.”

–       George Horsfield to Agnes Conway, c. November 1931

Everyone loves a love story, right? Well, dear readers, this is one.

MicroPasts has now launched an application where you can tag a group of photographs of different sites and locations in the Middle East. The photographs come from an archive that belonged to the British archaeologists George Horsfield (1882-1956) and his wife Agnes Conway Horsfield (1885-1950).

I’ve been researching and publishing on the Horsfields for a number of years now. I first came across these photographs and others in the Horsfield archive in 2006, when I was an MA student. The images were what inspired me to undertake a PhD investigating the history of archaeology through a network of British archaeologists – including George and Agnes. The following sections will introduce George and Agnes, provide a bit of context on the historical period in which they lived and worked, and examine the circumstances of their archive’s accession. I hope you’ll find exploring Mandate Palestine and Transjordan with the Horsfields as interesting as I do.

Meet the Horsfields

Leeds-born George Horsfield trained as an architect in London and worked for one of the most well known American Gothic Revival architectural practices in New York City before the First World War. At the outbreak of war, he enlisted as a volunteer, and saw action on the Western Front. At war’s end, demobilised, he embarked on a new career in archaeology. Admitted in 1923 as a student in the new British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem (BSAJ), Horsfield gained experience in excavating and excavation management, and brought his architect’s eye to interpreting and conserving sites. After his BSAJ training in Palestine, Horsfield worked primarily in Transjordan. He became the Chief Curator/Inspector in the Transjordan Department of Antiquities.

Fig 1. Agnes Horsfield at Damieh, Transjordan.

Fig 1. Agnes Horsfield at Damieh, Transjordan.

In 1928, he met Agnes Conway for the first time. Conway was the daughter of a mountaineering art-historian, author and politician and his American wife. She studied History at Newnham College, Cambridge – before Cambridge started giving women degrees. Her interest in archaeology developed at Newnham too, under the supervision of the classicist Jane Harrison.

After leaving Cambridge, Agnes Conway embarked on many different projects, including studying at the British School at Rome and the British School at Athens, and cataloguing and enhancing her father’s vast photograph collection. When her father became the first Director General of the Imperial War Museum during the First World War, she worked with a team of other women to collect material relating to women’s war work, and continued working on the collection and display of this material into the 1920s. By this point she had also published two books: A Child’s History of Art (1909)and A Ride Through the Balkans: On Classic Ground with a Camera (1917). She also began extensive research on the Wyatt family, whose Kent castle the Conways were slowly restoring.

Fig 2. A detail from Fig 1, showing Agnes Horsfield more clearly with her camera in her hands.

Fig 2. A detail from Fig 1, showing Agnes Horsfield more clearly with her camera in her hands.

In 1929, after meeting George Horsfield, the pair began an investigation of the site of Petra in Transjordan, the famous “rose red city” of the Nabataean civilisation, with two other scholars, Tewfiq Canaan and Ditlef Nielsen. George and Agnes continued to collaborate on analysing Petra over the next few years, and their friendship evolved into love. They married in January 1932 in Jerusalem, and settled in a house in Jerash, in the midst of the remains of the Roman town that had once flourished there.

They remained based at Jerash, travelling frequently in Transjordan and Palestine, until 1936, when George Horsfield left his position at the Department of Antiquities. The Horsfields embarked on a few years of Mediterranean travel, returning to live in London during the Second World War. Agnes Conway Horsfield died in 1950; George Horsfield moved to Cyprus thereafter and died in Kyrenia in 1956.

Archaeology in the Mandates

Prior to the First World War, the region that became Palestine and Transjordan was part of the Ottoman Empire. During the war, the Sykes Picot agreement, the Arab Revolt and the Balfour Declaration all contributed to the post-war reshaping of former Ottoman Empire territories into distinct countries – Syria, Mesopotamia (renamed Iraq) and Palestine. Britain had occupied Jerusalem from late December 1917. Then, under League of Nations issued Mandate agreements, Britain gained administrative responsibility for Palestine from 1920. In 1923 Transjordan (the land east of the Jordan River) was separated from Palestine under a new British Mandate agreement.

A British-run administrative framework was instituted in Palestine, with a British High Commissioner at the top, and various departments such as Treasury, Customs, Immigration, Education, Agriculture, and Health. There was also a Department of Antiquities, established in 1920, with antiquities legislation set out in Article 21 of the Mandate Agreement.

The Department of Antiquities issued permits for excavation and generally undertook survey work, documented archaeological sites and antiquities, made provision for guards for the sites, and took steps to open sites to tourists. There was also a revitalisation of the museum in Jerusalem, and provision for smaller local museums elsewhere in Palestine.

Transjordan also had its own Department of Antiquities, with close links to the Department of Antiquities in Palestine. George Horsfield had originally been sent to Transjordan from Palestine to lend his architectural expertise to the conservation of sites, specifically Jerash. When he became Chief Curator/Inspector in Transjordan he had similar responsibilities to the Director of Antiquities in Palestine: inspecting sites, ensuring guards were in place, and, with Agnes as his collaborator, documenting sites throughout the country where possible. He also helped to build a small museum at Jerash, and wrote a guide to the site that was published in 1933.

The Transjordan Department of Antiquities had little funding for large-scale work. Thus the Horsfields mainly undertook survey work and facilitated excavations by others, including archaeological teams from the American Schools of Oriental Research and the French Ecole Biblique et Archéologique Française of Jerusalem.

Fig 3. George Horsfield at Damieh, Transjordan.

Fig 3. George Horsfield at Damieh, Transjordan.

The Horsfield Photographs

In 1951, after Agnes’s death, George Horsfield wrote directly to V. Gordon Childe, then Director of the Institute of Archaeology in London, offering Childe what he described as his wife’s material on Petra and Transjordan which he hoped would be useful for the Institute’s students. Two boxes were duly shipped to the Institute’s premises at St John’s Lodge, Regent’s Park, and a further packet of photographs arrived a short time later. (Whether any students actually used the archive is still to be discovered.)

George Horsfield’s correspondence with Childe reveals that the contents of the boxes had been put together ‘without examination’, which I think contributes to the variety (and in some senses haphazard array) of material associated with the Horsfields in this collection. The two boxes that arrived in 1951 have over the ensuing decades been distributed into seventeen archive boxes, which (most likely because the material was not examined before its donation) contain a collection documenting not only the Horsfields’ work at Petra and travels in the region, but also Agnes’s pre-marriage trips to Greece, Sierra Leone and Iraq.

Fig 4. A detail from Fig 3, showing George Horsfield.

Fig 4. A detail from Fig 3, showing George Horsfield.

What results from George and Agnes Horsfield’s donation, then, is a partial but by no means insignificant view into the life and work of an antiquities inspector and his wife (and equal partner) in archaeology in Mandate Transjordan.

The photographs now available for tagging in MicroPasts are among the most formally presented in the archive, being mounted and labelled. They reflect George and Agnes’s lives and work in the Middle East. The Horsfields themselves appear only rarely in front of the camera, and when they are there, they are absent in the captions (see Figs 1-4). Agnes Conway was very interested in photography, and spent hours practicing with her camera – as you can see from Fig 2, she holds her camera firmly in her grasp.

The Horsfields’ photographs document an archaeological and historical landscape that has changed dramatically in the decades since the photographs were taken. They need to be read as part of an important period in the history of Britain and the Middle East – and this history continues to affect the region to this day.

Researching the context of the Horsfield archive is a continuing work in progress, particularly as complementary archives become more accessible through active cataloguing. There are many more histories yet to be revealed. However, we can start to discover them together here, through images. The MicroPasts platform forces you, as contributors, to look at these photographs in detail – and the closer you look, the more you find!

References/Further Reading

On the Horsfields:

Conway, A. and Conway, W. M. 1909. The Children’s Book of Art. London: Adam & Charles Black. Available at:

Conway, A. 1917. A Ride Through the Balkans: On Classic Ground with a Camera. London: Robert Scott. Available at:

Conway, A. and Horsfield, G. 1930. Historical and Topographical Notes on Edom: with an account of the first excavations at Petra. Geographical Journal 76 (5): 369-390.

Evans, J. 1966. The Conways: A History of Three Generations. London: Museum Press.

Horsfield, A. 1943. Journey to Kilwa, Transjordan. Geographical Journal 102 (2): 71-77.

Horsfield, G. 1933. Official Guide to Jerash: With Plan. Government of Transjordan, Department of Antiquities.

The Times. 1950. The Hon. Mrs George Horsfield. The Times Digital Archive [Online], 7 September. (subscription)

The Times. 1956. Mr George Horsfield. The Times Digital Archive [Online], 15 August. (subscription)

Thornton, A. (forthcoming). The Nobody: Exploring Archaeological Identity with George Horsfield (1882-1956). Archaeology International.

Thornton, A. & Perry, S. 2011. Collection and Production: The History of the Institute of Archaeology through Photography.  Archaeology International, 13/14, 101-107. DOI:

Thornton, A. 2011. British Archaeologists, Social Networks and the Emergence of a Profession: the social history of British archaeology in the Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East, 1870-1939. Unpublished PhD thesis, University College London.

Thornton, A.  2011. The Allure of Archaeology: Agnes Conway and Jane Harrison at Newnham College, 1903-1907. Bulletin for the History of Archaeology, 21 (1), 37-56. DOI:

Thornton, A. 2009.  George Horsfield, Conservation and the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem.  Antiquity Project Gallery [Online]:

Thornton, A. 2006. Explorations in the Desert: The Photographic Collection of George and Agnes Horsfield. Papers from the Institute of Archaeology 17, 93-100. DOI:

Who Was Who. HORSFIELD, George. Who Was Who. A & C Black [Online edn]. Available at: (subscription)

On the history of archaeology in Mandate Palestine and Transjordan:

Albright, W. 1963. The Archaeology of Palestine. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Abu el-Haj, N. 2001. Facts on the Ground: Archaeological Practice and Territorial Self-Fashioning in Israeli Society. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Gibson, S. 1999. British Archaeological Institutions in Mandate Palestine, 1917-1948. Palestine Exploration Quarterly 131 (2): 115-143. DOI:

Moorey, R. 1991. A Century of Biblical Archaeology. Cambridge: Lutterworth.

Thornton, A. (forthcoming). Social Networks in the History of Archaeology: Placing Archaeology in its Context. Workshop Proceedings: New Historiographical Approaches to Archaeological Research. Berlin Studies of the Ancient World.

Thornton, A. 2012. Archaeologists-in-Training: Students of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem, 1920-1936. Journal of Open Archaeology Data, 1:1, DOI:

Thornton, A. 2012.(ed). Tourism as Colonial Policy? The History of Heritage Tourism in Mandate Palestine and Transjordan [Special Issue] Public Archaeology 11 (4). (subscription)

General histories of Mandate Palestine and Transjordan

Abu-Nowar, M. 1989. The Creation and Development of Transjordan, 1920-1929: a history of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Oxford: Ithaca Press.

Abu-Nowar, M. 2005. The Development of Transjordan 1929-1939: a history of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Oxford: Ithaca Press.

Fromkin, D. 1989. A Peace to End all Peace: the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the modern Middle East. New York: Avon Books.

Luke, H. and Keith-Roach, E. 1922. The Handbook of Palestine. London: Macmillan and Co., Limited. Available at:

Luke, H. and Keith-Roach, E. 1930. The Handbook of Palestine and Transjordan. (2nd edn). London: Macmillan and Co., Limited.

Wasserstein, B. 1978. The British in Palestine: the mandatory government and the Arab-Jewish conflict 1917-1929. London: Royal Historical Society.

Wilson, M. 1987. King Abdullah, Britain and the Making of Modern Jordan. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.