We speak from facts not theories’
The fully booked tour of the prehistoric galleries (25 limit) was preceded by coffee and a brief history of this very early museum. David Dawson then concentrated our attention on the Neolithic and Bronze Age galleries, which are indeed what make the museum a resource for researchers from around the world. Because research is ongoing, only a tour by the museum director can allow the visitor to keep abreast of the latest findings: the characterisation studies that have traced the origin of the Jadeite stone axes to one boulder in the Alps; the Brittany connection in the Bronze Age; the importance of Cornwall as a source for early gold; the computation that were originally as many as 70,000 folded and twisted gold pins in the Bush Barrow dagger handle.
There were a number of ‘light bulb moments’ in the tour. One of them was certainly David Dawson’s comment, in front of the Bush Barrow display, that only a grammar school boy such as Cunnington would have undertaken such an excavation and understood its significance. Classically educated antiquaries, in the thrall of both the bible (a human story lasting only 40 generations) and Tacitus, did not grasp either the time depth or the sophistication of our prehistory. Hence the full meaning of Colt-Hoare’s(Cunnington’s sponsor) slogan: ‘We speak from facts not theories’.
The above words are to be found in Colt Hoare’s Ancient Wiltshire, which, for its time, was a monument of archaeological publishing. And this opened the door to another of the museum’s riches – the library and archive collection. We were shown not only a selection of original publications, by Stukely for example, but also unpublished material, beginning with Aubrey in the 17th century and culminating in Philip Crocker’s original water colours for Ancient Wiltshire.
In two weeks we follow the Cunnington and Colt Hoare trail to Stourhead, the fount of inspiration, and of course funding, for Wiltshire archaeology.