Thursday, 10 November 2016

Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

I've constantly heard the Pitt Rivers Museum is Oxford talked about in glowing terms and got the impression that one day wasn't enough to do it justice. As I had the chance during my sabbatical I went for an indulgent two day jaunt there with a night at a hotel.

They offer the chance to view pre-requested items from their expansive collection (300,000+ items) and I considered looking at some of their fire  by friction stuff. However I found the search facility frustrating as it often brought up no results, or results with no images, coupled with a  £30 non-commercial blog fee for taking photos of the said artefacts so a Monday morning archive viewing with a Tuesday to  look around quickly morphed into a Tuesday to Wednesday tourist visit!

Just in case a stay rattles your cage here's the basic detail. I was approaching from the East so I booked a night at a Premier Inn on the A4142 which was within a short distnace of the Thornhill park and ride on the A40. The bus you want is the 400 service to Seacourt and it alights at stop B This park and ride bus don't go particularly near to the museum so l baled out on the High Street (stop I1) and it's a 10-12 minute zig-zag walk to the museum. Find stop K3 on the High Street and get the 400 to Thornhill.


The site is effectively two museums together because you get to the Pitt Rivers museum through the Museum of Natural History (head past the T-Rex and Igauanodon skeletons and then a left followed by a sharp right!). You can see the partially obscured entrance in the background of the picture right above. It's got a Secret Garden like feel...Almost 'You'll see the door if you believe'.

Once you leave the brightness of the Natural History museum you enter a collection (which is what it is) which is more subdued, to the point where a small penlight or mobile phone torch app is useful. apparently there are over 30,000 items on display which makes it the most densely stocked museum in Europe. And therein lies the problem of doing a blog about the visit, a nice problem because there is just so much to mention.

I've decided to do a basic write up about the experience and then do a gallery style photo album afterwards with brief descriptions of the items in questions, otherwise it will end up as an 'And then I saw' type list.


One thing you absolutely need to do if you is look up and down to maximise your visit. Typically the view above left is at eye level, but just above (right) you can see more display stuff that it would be easy to miss.

There are also lots of black drawers to open to see stuff. Not all of it is obvious because whilst the stuff in drawers has a individual ID label it isn't always visible. To be fair they are bonus views but one thing I found in the main cabinets was that often this label was obscured which was a little frustrating because not everything was listed on the main cards. The lighting is halogen type spotlights which can cast 'sunspots' on photographs. There is a café onsite but it is a sandwich, crisps, drink and cake sort of range but there are artifacts to see  and views down on the natural history museum.

Not getting anywhere with a morning look at archived items actually did me a favour as l felt that two days maximised my experience there and allowed me to indulgently get the most out of my visit(s). Even though I'd seen all I needed to see I found it hard to leave because spending all that unrushed time there meant that I was really in the zone, hence the throwaway meme. I've mentioned the secret Garden re getting in but throw in Mr Magorium's Magic Emporium and Night at the Musuem too. 

And so onto just a small selection of the photographs I took over the two days with notes added were needed. In no particular order.


atlatls from . I recently made a flint tipped set with Will Lord, and a load of my own and I was actively looking for some in the museum. took these pictures of the launchers because the one one the left is similar to what I made but the one on the right was a concave arrangement. 


Clever raven 



Fire by friction including bowdrill, hand drill, flint and steel, fire thong and plough amongst others. This section was another that I eagerly sought out and it was two back to back cabinets with a lower glass cabinet too. I sat for 15 minutes on my backside taking pictures and studying the items.


There was a spooky effect generated when I tried to take a picture of this highly patterned bull roarer. My camera took a moment to focus and went from bull roarer to glass and back. This almost perfectly transposed an image of a totem pole from over my shoulder.

Not all the bull roarers were displayed in isolation.  These examples were...........................A more macabre practice that made the visiting school children go 'Eeeugh' but the cabinet had a strange draw.


Made of seal gut which is ingenious as it wastes no part of the animal and it uses the material's water fastness to the wearers advantage.


Nenet (Russian) snow goggles and

Native American warroir and chid. Back shows history


Woven fish traps from various places with a similar design. There were also woven ones for catching rodents which where laid on their runs through the undergrowth.

A variety of handmade fish hooks  which varied in size with the largest one I saw for catching sharks being about a foot (30 cms) long.


Various carved wooden spoons from around the world including the big one on the left hand side which has moving balls carved into the handle,  the double one on the right is a flexibe chain.

And a few of the Museum of Natural History to finish off. 



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