Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

When I first visited this incredible space at the rear of the Natural History Museum, I was completely overwhelmed. It contains 60,0000 objects from virtually the entire world, including 55,000 artefacts. The apparent jumble allows us to discover them ourselves, to find sense of our own. It is described as a democracy of things, which I think is apt. There is so much there, so much variety, in such a small dark space that it can be overkill. But that same sense of being overwhelmed is a good thing in that it is a reminder of how much human history there is, how many cultures, peoples, eras. It shows it like it is. It also helps us see ordinary objects in a new light, either due to them being made in a different way or put to a different use, so it makes us stop to think, is this the way it should be? Could this be better?

The building itself is in the shape of a casket, which is apt as both museums are containers for curious objects.

Pitt-Rivers

Details of several little known female anthropologists are on display

These are real stocks from a village in Oxford

Pitt-Rivers-Herschell-stocks

This is a nineteenth century knitting basket from Peru

Pitt-Rivers-19thcentury-Peru-knitting-basket

A cloak made of seal intestine, a reminder that when our ancestors killed an animal, everything was used

Pitt-Rivers-Aleutian-cloak

Love this carved bone apple corer

Pitt-Rivers-apple-gouge

From West Africa, a basket made by women from cowries, shells that were widely used as currency in lieu of small value coins.

Pitt-Rivers-cowrie-basket

This is a power figure from the Democratic Republic of Congo which was used to identify, hunt down and punish witches.

Pitt-Rivers-DRC-power-figure

Not sure if this was deliberate, but these New Zealand canoe bailers look rather penis-y.

A huuuuge totem pole that rises up through the floors

Pitt-Rivers-totem-pole

Some whistling arrows

Pitt-Rivers-wistling-arrows

Finally this. Possibly the scariest thing I’ve ever seen. Look away if you are faint hearted. I want one of these.

 

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