Pitt Rivers Museum
If you are interested in anthropology, a visit to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford is an absolute must. Located behind the Natural History Museum, Pitt Rivers is a treasure trove of fascinating objects. It is said to be one of the best anthropology museums in the world. I agree!
The objects are organized by function rather than by place of origin as is typical in many museums. So you’ll find a case with tarot cards from all over the world, a cabinet with all types of boat paddles, or a case with guns and rifles. Many of the items have handwritten or typed labels making this a quirky place.
The museum is named after Augustus Henry Lane-Fox Pitt Rivers, an English officer in the British Army, ethnologist, and archaeologist. His collection of nearly 22,000 objects was the beginnings of the Pitt Rivers Museum at the University of Oxford. It is fitting that his collection is housed next to the Natural History Museum where the theory of evolution was debated as his methods of organizing items by type was influenced by the evolutionary writings of Charles Darwin. He believed that cultures also went through a process of evolution in developing tools, and his collections aimed to illustrate this. However, one of his most important contributions to the field was his opinion that all artifacts, not just precious ones, be collected and catalogued. Pitt Rivers died in 1900.
Be sure to schedule enough time to explore this fascinating museum, it is chock full three floors of delights, literally packed to the rafters. Docents lead regular short tours through the museum, so ask and you might catch one.
Pitt Rivers is a crazy cabinet of curiosities from cultures all around the world. The Pitt Rivers Museum shrunken heads are probably the most famous of their displays. Indeed they are pretty interesting, but there is a lot more to discover. The Pitt Rivers totem pole is another fascinating item, as it was disassembled to be shipped to the museum from the Haida community of Massett in British Columbia via train and steam ship.
This is one of the coolest museums I have ever been to! I hope you like it too.
The Pitt Rivers Museum building was designed by the son of one of the designers of the Natural History Museum. It is simpler in style as the budget was depleted after the first building was done. While the building itself is interesting, the many treasures and artifacts steal the show anyway. If you have trouble locating the museum, the entrance is at the rear of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, you must walk through the first museum to get in.
Admission is free to the museum but you can make a donation near the entrance. Also visit the Pitt Rivers museum shop for a variety of postcards and books.
Pitt Rivers Museum Oxford opening times: 10:00 – 16:30 Tuesday to Sunday, 12.00 – 16.30 Monday
South Parks Road
OX1 3PP Oxford
The Pitt Rivers Museum is one of the best anthropology museums in the world. Here are a few others you might like:
- University of Cambridge Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology
- British Museum in London
- Horniman Museum in London
- Musée du quai Branly in Paris
- Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam
- Ethnological Museum in Berlin
- Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City
- Phoebe Hearst Museum of Anthropology in Berkeley
- Museo Nacional de Antropología in Mexico City
- National Museum of Ethnology in Osaka
- Museu Nacional de Etnologia in Lisbon