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Prehistoric discoidal flint knife

This prehistoric discoidal flint knife has been made by being bifacially flaked and ground on the edges. The 20th-century label has been made for display purposes in the Pitt Rivers Museum, but includes information from the museum’s documentation and almost certainly from other earlier labels that do not survive. As with other objects, the text provides information about its modern history. ‘Rev. J.C. Clutterbuck’ was a vicar in the village of Long Wittenham, which is on the River Thames in south Oxfordshire. Pitt-Rivers acquired various other Romano-British objects from him, from London and Oxfordshire, as well as this object. (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 2007.74.1)​

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Plaster cast of a 400,000-year-old Palaeolithic hand-axe

This object is a plaster cast of a 400,000-year-old Palaeolithic hand-axe. A label bears the text “FOUND AT HOXNE, SUFFOLK IN 1797”, which is re-written onto the object – a reference to a discovery by John Frere, who published his ‘Account of Flint Weapons Discovered at Hoxne in Suffolk’ in the journal Archaeologia in 1800. The object is one of  ‘3 casts of implements in the British Mus’ that Pitt-Rivers recorded in his collection. It demonstrates the importance to Pitt-Rivers of acquiring casts of museum objects for comparative purposes. The original axe is still held by the British Museum today (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.122.2).​

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A ceramic jug that dates from the Romano-British period

This ceramic jug dates from the Romano-British period, and is made from a fine grained black burnished ware known as Upchurch ware. The writing on the object, copied from earlier markings and labels, records the provenance of the object as Uriconium – the Roman name for Wroxeter. Together with a contemporary label, it also records a detailed sequence of acquisition – its discovery in 1866 by ‘Mr Stannier who farmed the land’, its sale to a dealer in Shrewsbury named Mr Last, and Pitt-Rivers’ purchase of the object from Last in 1870 (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.37.31).​

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Prehistoric flint knife

This prehistoric flint knife, with a curved edge and straight back, is probably Neolithic in date. Its recorded provenance, “Yorkshire”, is unspecific, but the faded number in black ink, ‘1337’, matches with a manuscript source dating from 1874 in which Pitt-Rivers recorded a “triangular flint knife or arrowhead” in his collection. Pitt-Rivers was a Yorkshireman by birth, and returned there throughout his life, so the object could have been acquired by him any time before 1874, in the first 47 years of his life (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.123.333).​

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Neolithic stone scraper

Three curatorial hands inscribe this Neolithic stone scraper. Modern writing reads “YORKSHIRE WOLDS”, giving two museum catalogue numbers. The number ‘10’ and an illegible word are written in pencil. Their meaning is obscure, but the single faded word “GREENWELL” connects the scraper with a seminal moment in Victorian archaeology. Canon William Greenwell pioneered the excavation of prehistoric burial mounds in Yorkshire, and Pitt-Rivers spent time excavating with him in April 1867 –later reminiscing that he gained crucial early experience in digging from Greenwell. Acquired at some point by Pitt-Rivers from Greenwell, this scraper represents evidence not just of prehistoric Yorkshire, but also of a personal exchange between Victorian antiquaries (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.133.56).

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Early Bronze Age copper alloy flat axe

This early Bronze Age copper alloy flat axe has a triangular panel of vertical 'rain pattern' decoration, over which the word ‘ENGLAND’ is written in white paint, along with the number ‘P.R. 1437’ above. The provenance is unspecific, but the numbers refer to an entry in the hand-written list made in 1874, just before the first public exhibition of Pitt-Rivers’ collection at Bethnal Green Museum: Bronze period 1437; 39 Bronze celts. The modern text offers a glimpse into one moment in the object’s life-history, when it was exhibited 140 years ago in East London (Pitt Rivers Museum Accession Number 1884.119.39).

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The Parthian Empire at its Greatest Extent (c. 96 BC)

In the early 1st century BC, Parthia’s territory expanded to the River Euphrates. Parthian and Roman envoys met to establish this landmark as the boundary between the two superpowers. At this first meeting, the Roman magistrate reportedly seized the seat of honour, humiliating his Parthian counterpart as the inferior ambassador. In 53 BC, Parthia finally demonstrated its strength by crushing the Roman army at Carrhae. 30,000 soldiers were killed or captured, and several legionary standards were lost to the Parthians.

Alexandra Magub - School of Oriental and African Studies and The British Museum

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The Parthian Shot: silver tetradrachm of an unknown king (c. 80-70 BC).

The archer on Parthian coins not only represented the military might of the Parthians, but also their Iranian character. Trousers were considered effeminate clothing in the Roman world; however the folds of material (shown on the coins as horizontal lines) prevented saddle chaffing. These mounted archers were a chilling reminder of Rome’s defeat at Carrhae: the Roman historian Justin recounts how the cavalrymen would gallop in retreat, only to turn in the saddle and fire fatal shots from their bows. 

© Trustees of the British Museum

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Silver denarius of Augustus (63 BC–14 AD).

In 20 BC, Augustus, Emperor of Rome, and Phraates IV, King of Parthia, negotiated the return of Rome’s captured standards. While both sides benefited from this treaty, Augustus was quick to portray the event as a personal victory.  On this coin, a Parthian wearing the characteristic trouser suit returns a standard from his knees. Recounting these events, Augustus published the claim throughout his empire, “I forced the Parthians… as supplicants to accept the friendship of the Roman people“(Res Gestae, 29). 

© Trustees of the British Museum

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