Alexander Keiller (archaeologist)
Alexander Keiller FSA FGS (1 December 1889 – 1955) was a Scottish archaeologist, pioneering aerial photographer, businessman and philanthropist who worked on an extensive prehistoric site at Avebury in Wiltshire, England.
He used his wealth to acquire a total of 950 acres (3.8 km2) of land in Avebury for preservation and he conducted excavations, re-erected stones on the Avebury site, and created a museum to interpret the site. He also pioneered aerial photography for archaeological interpretation.
At Avebury, Keiller founded the Morven Institute of Archeological Research, now the Alexander Keiller Museum. In 1943 he sold the land at Avebury to the National Trust for its agricultural value only.
Keiller founded and financed the Sizaire-Berwick Motor Company.
His fourth wife, Gabrielle Keiller, was also an archaeological photographer, whom he met in connection with Avebury.
Early life and education
Alexander Keiller was born at Binrock House in Dundee on 1 December 1889, the only child of businessman John Mitchell Keiller (1851–1899) and Mary Sime Greig (1862–1907), of the Dundee medical family.
When Keiller was nine, his father died, leaving him the sole heir to the wealth generated by the family's business. He was sent to Hazelwood School at Limpsfield in Surrey and from there went on to Eton College. When he was seventeen, his mother died, and he returned home to administer the family business.
Marriage and family
On 2 June 1913, Keiller married Florence Marianne Phil-Morris (1883–1955), the daughter of artist Philip Richard Morris. They moved into Keiller's house in London. After the First World War, they were divorced.
On 29 February 1924, Keiller married Veronica Mildred Liddell (1900–1964). Veronica shared his interest in archaeology and visited Avebury with him later that year. She was one of the supervisors for the 1925–1929 Windmill Hill excavations, near Avebury, alongside her sister Dorothy Liddell. Following a separation, Keiller divorced Veronica in 1934.
On 16 November 1938, Keiller married for a third time; his new wife was Doris Emerson Chapman (b. 1901), an artist. She had joined the Morven Institute of Archaeological Research, founded by Keiller, in 1937. Her contributions in this field include detailed illustrations of the stones as part of the West Kennet Avenue excavations and the creation of visual reconstructions of faces from skulls, four of which were from a burial mound at Chippenham.
He later married a fourth time, to Gabrielle Style (1908–1995). She lived past his death in 1955, and in 1966 she donated the museum and its contents to the nation.
After the outbreak of the First World War, he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve as a temporary lieutenant, moving to the Royal Naval Air Service in December 1914. In 1915 he was invalided out of the service, but in 1918 he joined air intelligence, where he remained until the end of the war.
Keiller began to pursue an interest in archaeology. In 1922 he and O. G. S. Crawford undertook an aerial survey of archaeological sites in south western England. This work led to their publication of Wessex from the Air in 1928, the first book of aerial archaeology to be published in the UK.
Using his wealth, Keiller decided to buy nearby Windmill Hill and then undertake excavations there. His work proved that the site was a causewayed enclosure, and it became the monument type-site for decades afterward. He succeeded in getting Tomnaverie stone circle in Aberdeenshire into state guardianship. In 1934, he began a two-year excavation of the West Kennet Avenue, which led south east from the Avebury stone circle. As he discovered buried stones, he had them re-erected, and marked the stone-holes with pillars.
Keiller's first major excavation at Avebury was in 1937, the first of three seasons over the ensuing years. Each concentrated on a quadrant of the circle, clearing undergrowth, restoring and conserving the site. Buried stones, some up to a metre below ground, were uncovered and replaced in their original stone-holes. As with the avenue, he placed concrete pylons to denote missing stones. That same year, he founded the Morven Institute of Archaeological Research.
In 1938 he discovered the famous barber surgeon of Avebury skeleton in the south west quadrant. Keiller opened his museum that year, to display finds from the Windmill Hill, West Kennet, and Avebury excavations.
In 1943, Keiller sold his holdings in Avebury to the National Trust for £12,000, simply the agricultural value of the 950 acres (3.8 km2) he had accrued, and not reflecting the immense investment he had made at the site. His excavations at Avebury were unpublished at his death, but were worked up by archaeologist Isobel Smith and published in 1965. In 1966, his widow Gabrielle Keiller donated the Avebury museum and its contents to the nation.
- James Keiller and Son. Gracesguide.co.uk (16 February 2012). Retrieved on 30 May 2014.
- Alexander Keiller. Oxfordindex.oup.com (22 February 1999). Retrieved on 30 May 2014.
- Darvill, Timothy (2008). Concise Oxford Dictionary of Archaeology. Oxford University Press. pp. 532–. ISBN 978-0-19-157904-2.
- "Alexander Keiller Museum, Avebury". English Heritage. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
- "Historical Manuscripts Commission - papers ... in the custody of the Alexander Keiller Museum". National Archives. Retrieved 18 March 2016.
- "Life story: John Aidan Liddell | Lives of the First World War". livesofthefirstworldwar.iwm.org.uk. Retrieved 14 November 2019.
- Sizaire-Berwick. Gracesguide.co.uk (17 December 2013). Retrieved on 30 May 2014.
- F. W. Berwick and Co. Gracesguide.co.uk (17 December 2013). Retrieved on 30 May 2014.
- Mr Keiller's Sizaire Berwick motor car housed in the museum at Avebury Manor, Wiltshire. Image details. National Trust Images. Retrieved on 30 May 2014.
- Aslet, Clive (2010). "South-West England". Village of Britain: The Five Hundred Villages That Made the Countryside (UK ed.). UK and US: Bloomsbury. p. 9. ISBN 978-0-7475-8872-6.
Taking a lease on Avebury Manor, he joined the ranks of the restorers who were transforming the manor houses of Southern England into the visual equivalent of romantic poetry, releasing the spirits of history that had been locked up in them by insensitive alterations