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This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Sir Mortimer Wheeler and Bath

Black and white photograph. Sir Mortimer Wheeler giving opening address at 1958 Bath Festival in Abbey Churchyard. Council dignitaries including Mayor of Bath on platform behind speaker. (Televised event) - image from Roman Baths Collection.
 The 1958 Bath Festival included a televised opening ceremony, in Abbey Churchyard, carried out by Sir Mortimer Wheeler (1890-1976), the eminent archaeologist.

His speech included the statement that Bath could become ‘a mere archaeological specimen’. He then went on to say:

‘I am going to be quite frank with you about this. If there’s one thing I dislike more than another, it is archaeology. The moment you think of a place as mere archaeology, you may be sure that the place is dead. But Bath, you’ll agree with me, is not dead. It is a Roman city; it is a Georgian city; but Bath is also a modern city.’
Bullamore 1999, pp.53

Sir Mortimer Wheeler is often viewed as being one of the first ‘modern archaeologists’. One of the reasons for this is his encouraging the use of volunteer diggers rather than cheap labour. Previously, many amateur excavations were funded by inviting contributions from wealthy investors, who would then get a share of any proceeds if anything of value was found. Another reason is his development of the ‘Box grid system’.

The site is divided into squares which are then dug leaving just a dividing wall, similar to an ice cube tray. By using this method the site could be dug, but with layers of earth still preserved, so it is still possible to see how a site has changed over the years.

His career began as in 1919 as Director of Archaeology at the National Museum of Wales, then becoming Keeper of Archaeology at the Museum of London in 1926. He undertook a five year excavation at Maiden Castle, near Dorchester, Dorset. He also worked in India as Director General Archaeological Survey of India and establishing the Archaeological Department of Pakistan and the National Museum of Pakistan.

Sir Mortimer Wheeler

He died in 1976.
Bullamore, T. 1999 Fifty Festival – The History of the Bath Festival. Mushroom Publishing: Finland

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