Frontispiece from Revd James Douglas, Nenia Britannica, a book

Published in London, 1793

Antiquary, archaeologist or engineer?

Modern archaeology owes a great debt to the pioneering work of Revd James Douglas. He was one of the first antiquaries to record, draw and publish his findings to a high standard in Nenia Britannica: or, a sepulchral history of Great Britain; from the earliest period to its general conversion to Christianity.

Douglas began studying the past while serving in the army in the Corps of Engineers. In 1779 he was engaged to supervise the reworking of Chatham Lines, the earthworks that defended Chatham Docks in Kent. During this work nearly a hundred ancient barrows were opened. Douglas meticulously recorded and drew plans of each. He also amassed a large collection that later entered the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

After leaving the army Douglas entered the Church and began to study the funeral customs of the ancient Britons. Using his knowledge of geology, he was able to apply the principles of stratigraphy to his excavations. He also used his expertise as a draughtsman and etcher to prepare fine plates for the publication of his researches in Nenia Britannica. The book included the earliest known ground plans of scientifically excavated barrows. Moreover, Douglas was the first to realise that both his discoveries and those made by Bryan Faussett in Kent were Anglo-Saxon. His book also records sites now lost for posterity. Its high standards were not bettered until well into the twentieth century. Sadly, his work was not properly appreciated until 1835, when others again took up where he had left off.

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Frontispiece from Revd James Douglas, Nenia Britannica, a book


  • Anglo-Saxon jewellery

    Anglo-Saxon jewellery


More information


K. Sloan (ed.), Enlightenment. Discovering the (London, The British Museum Press, 2003)

B.M. Marsden, Pioneers of Prehistory. Leader (Ormskirk, G.W. & A. Hesketh, 1983)


Height: 44.000 cm
Width: 28.000 cm
Depth: 4.000 cm

Museum number


not found on MERLIN


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