Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers

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Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers (1827–1900) was an officer in the British Army, an anthropologist, and a pioneer in the field of archaeology. He rose to the rank of Lieutenant General before retiring in 1882. In archaeology Pitt-Rivers was amongst the first to adopt rigorous scientific methods to investigations and helped create methods of excavating and recording that would be used by generations of future archaeologists.[1]


Born on 14 April 1827 as Augustus Henry Lane Fox, he was the son of William Augustus Lane Fox, an army officer, and Lady Caroline. Fox followed his father into the army and attended Sandhurst Military Academy. In 1845 he was given a commission with the Grenadier Guards. Fox married Alice Margaret in 1853 when he was 25 years old. The couple went on to have nine children: six boys and three girls.[1]

Using Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species (1859) as inspiration, Fox developed the theory of cultural evolution. In his army career he accumulated a collection of historic weapons, and he used them to demonstrate the concept of typology: the idea that objects could be arranged in chronological order based on their design. This idea has been particularly influential in archaeology, a subject he became interested in some time in the 1860s. Horace Pitt, 6th Baron Rivers, died in 1880 and bequeathed his estates to Fox. At this point he changed his name to Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers, often shortened to Augustus Pitt-Rivers. By the time he retired from the army in 1882, Pitt-Rivers had risen to the rank of Lieutenant-General.[1]

A year before his retirement, Pitt-Rivers began a series of excavations on his newly inherited lands. The investigations were focussed on Cranborne Chase and lasted from 1881 until 1896. Pitt-Rivers was a wealthy man and was able to hire workers and to publish the results of the excavations in four volumes.[2] His military experience informed to approach to archaeology and Fox was meticulous in his surveying and record keeping. He was amongst the first archaeologists to adopt a scientific approach to the subject and eschew treasure hunting.[3] Pitt-Rivers was one of the best excavators of the 19th century and was a strong advocate of recording as much information during excavations as possible. He explained the reason for this as follows:

Excavators, as a rule, record only those things which appear to them important at the time, but fresh problems in Archaeology and Anthropology are constantly arising, and it can hardly fail to escape the notice of anthropologists ... that on turning back to old accounts in search of evidence, the points which would have been most valuable have been passed over from being thought uninteresting at the time. Every detail should, therefore, be recorded in the manner most conducive to facility of reference[4]

Pitt-Rivers died in 1900 and was survived by his wife who died in 1910.[1]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Mark Bowden, ‘Rivers, Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt- (1827–1900)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 12 Feb 2013
  2. Quoted in Barker, Philip (1993). Techniques of Archaeological Excavation, third edition. London: Routledge. p. 36. ISBN 0-415-15152-X.
  3. Renfrew, Colin & Bahn, Paul (2004). Archaeology: Theories, Methods and Practice, 4th edition. Thames & Hudson. pp. 32–33. ISBN 0-500-28441-5.
  4. Quoted in Barker, Techniques of Archaeological Excavation, p. 36.