Wessex Women

Maud Cunnington, the 'trowel-blazing' archaeologist!

Objects from: Wiltshire Museum

Famous for her work on the prehistoric sites of Wiltshire, Maud Cunnington led many important early excavations across the county.

Pioneer and 'trowel-blazer'!

Maud Cunnington (1869 – 1951) is famous for her excavation work on the prehistoric sites of Wiltshire, including the Iron Age village at All Cannings Cross, near Devizes, and Woodhenge.

At this time, hardly any women were involved with archaeology and social expectations dictated that, if not invisible, women were certainly in the background.

Maud was committed to bringing archaeology to a wide audience, opening up her excavations to visitors, writing popular books for children and giving public lectures.

Archaeology accolades

Maud was not simply following in her archaeologist husband’s footsteps – instead, she was the leader in their archaeological ventures, which dominated Wiltshire for fifty years.

Maud was awarded with a CBE in 1948 for her services to British archaeology – the first woman archaeologist to receive the honour. She was elected president of the Wiltshire Archaeological and Natural History Society in 1933, the first woman to hold the position.

Spying and rivalry

Maud was a strong character and had a reputation for being difficult and abrupt. One of her most tempestuous relationships was with Alexander Keiller, who was excavating at Avebury. The two archaeologists loathed one another. Maud banned Keiller from her sites, and he in turn paid her excavation site foreman to spy on her work and send him written reports.

Iron Age pots

The objects chosen to tell the story of Maud Cunnington are the Iron Age pots (below). 

The pots came from the Iron Age village at All Cannings Cross, near Devizes. Puzzled by the many hammer stones found in a ploughed field, Maud and her husband, Benjamin, began to dig, finding vast quantities of pottery, animal bone, weaving equipment and iron tools.

Iron Age pots discovered by Maud Cunnington and her husband at All Cannings Cross.
Page from archaeology report from All Cannings Cross, 1923.
Archaeology report from All Cannings Cross, 1923.
Selection of pottery finds from All Cannings Cross.
Iron Age finds from All Cannings Cross, 1923.
Photo showing view of All Cannings Cross, 1923.
View of All Cannings Cross from 1923 report.