Mortimer Wheeler Archaeologist His Methods

Topics: Archaeology

 What led the archaeologist to the site?

Through his work, Wheeler had acquired an interest for excavating and examining sites in Britain. He had previously excavated Roman remains in Essex, Wales and Verulamium, a Pre-Roman settlement near St. Albans in England1. Maiden Castle, in Dorset County, offered much in the way of archaeology. It was thought to contain much evidence from Iron Age and Roman periods and offered a challenge for archaeologists to unearth its rich past. Mortimer Wheeler was drawn to the site because of the prospect of unearthing a piece in the puzzle of early British and Roman history.

Wheeler saw it a challenge that he was up to, he attempted to use his experience to piece together a missing part in British history.

 His methods of excavation.

One of the main reasons Mortimer Wheeler is remembered today is for his pioneering of the box grid system. He developed a system that divided the field into small squares, each separated by a narrow baulk2.

As the site of Maiden Castle was so large it was imperative that finds and their data were accurately recorded. Wheeler maintained strict control of his sites and meticulous organisation of stratigraphy, and all other aspects of operations on site, was exercised. It was commented that it took on the appearance of a military operation3. Each box had team with a leader who reported to Wheeler. As well as his use of the box grid method, Wheeler also used long narrow trenches alongside the boxes as well as exposing large areas of earth in the same area.

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He was very particular about finding, preserving as much evidence as possible in order to present accurate findings4. For example the discovery of certain fragments of ash in one of the stratum of the site led him to draw certain conclusions about the events that occurred there.

 Problems encountered.

Because of the protruding nature of the site of Maiden Castle it is easy to presume that excavation of the site would not pose much of a problem in regard to finding evidence. Because of the nature of the site and the civilisations that inhabited it this was not the case. After 2000 years of erosion much of the battlements and surrounding evidence had been destroyed5. Another problem in discovering evidence was the long periods of use undergone by the site. The site had been occupied by many civilisations including Neolithic, late Stone Age/early Bronze Age, Iron Age, Roman and possibly Saxon people. Because of the extensive use of the site much valuable information and evidence was destroyed, looted or misplaced6.

Significance of the discovery.

The discovery of Maiden Castle was a huge discovery in the history of early Europe and its progression into modern times. Maiden Castle is the largest known hill fort in Europe and paints a vivid picture about the lives, technologies and cultures of the early Celtic settlement in the British Isles7. The evidence uncovered at Maiden Castle gives an indication of the likely militaristic nature of the Iron Age people who constructed the fort as we know it today. The data acquired from the castle also proves and confirms aspects of Roman occupation in Britain and their culture of the time8.

 Problems of Reconstructing/Preservation

When it comes to Maiden Castle there has been much disagreement and dispute over what events actually took place there. Mortimer Wheelers excavations led him to develop what was seen as a very elaborate and fictitious story about what occurred when the fort passed hands from the Celtic Durotriges tribe to the Romans9. Mortimer’s account was highly fictional involving a extremely vicious Roman massacre of all within the castle setting fire to all buildings and pillaging it to the ground10. This reconstruction by Mortimer was challenged by many archaeologists and has since been proven wrong11.

This raises questions about the credibility of Wheelers work and poses doubts about whether this is truly what Wheeler believed of whether it was done for publicity reasons. Preservation of Maiden Castle was a big issue because of the exposed location of the structure. Maiden Castle has already undergone much degradation and erosion and measure to prevent further destruction of the site were undertaken by the English Heritage Commission12.

Cite this page

Mortimer Wheeler Archaeologist His Methods. (2019, Dec 05). Retrieved from

Mortimer Wheeler Archaeologist His Methods
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