Mortimer Wheeler

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Brigadier Sir Robert Eric Mortimer Wheeler CH, CIE, MC, FBA, FSA (10 September 1890 – 22 July 1976), was one of the best-known British archaeologists of the twentieth century.


Education and career

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, he was educated at Bradford Grammar School and the University of London where he achieved an MA degree in 1912. In 1913 he won the studentship for archaeology established jointly by the University of London and the Society of Antiquaries in memory of Augustus Wollaston Franks. Sir Arthur Evans doubled the amount of money that went with the studentship, paying out of his own pocket another £100. In late autumn 1913 he began to work for the Royal Commission on Historical Monuments (England).

At the beginning of World War I he was commissioned into the Royal Artillery (Territorial Force), at first remaining in London as an instructor in the University of London Officers' Training Corps. Then he was posted to several battery commands in Scotland and England until 1917. The last part of the war he fought in France, Passchendaele, the Western Front, near Bapaume, and finally marched into Germany, commanding 'A' Battery of 76th Brigade, RFA. During July 1919 he returned from the Rhineland to London and to civilian life.

Between 1920 and 1926 he was Director of the National Museum of Wales, and from 1926 to 1944 Keeper of the London Museum. During his career he performed many major excavations within Britain, including that of Roman Verulamium (modern-day St Albans), the late Iron Age hill-fort of Maiden Castle, Dorset and Stanwick Iron Age Fortifications in Yorkshire. The excavation methods he used, for example the grid system (later developed further by Kathleen Kenyon and known as the Wheeler-Kenyon method), were significant advances in archaeological method, although later superseded. He was influenced greatly by the work of the archaeologist Lieutenant General Augustus Pitt Rivers (1827–1900). The two constant themes in his attempts to improve archaeological excavation were, first, to maintain strict stratigraphic control while excavating (for this purpose, the baulks between his trenches served to retain a record of the strata that had been dug through), and, second, to publish the excavation promptly and in a form that would tell the story of the site to the intelligent reader.

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