After having been in Oxford for nearly seven years, today (or, by the time you read this, yesterday) I finally got around to visiting the Pitt-Rivers Museum. Their website describes the collection as being anthropology and world archeology – but it would be as true to describe it as ‘stuff’.
There is a mind-boggling assortment of objects in the collection, which covers one main floor and two galleries above it. They are grouped in categories such as ‘Humans Depicted in Art’ or ‘Treatment of Dead Enemies’ – there are cases devoted solely to zithers; to model canoes; to beads used as currency… and so on and so on. Within these cases everything is jumbled together – objects from all periods and countries. It’s rather overwhelming – and a wonderful, dizzying experience.
There isn’t much description – this isn’t one of those museums which has six panels of writing for every artefact. When information is supplied, often it is delightfully vague, on little handwritten tags which, as often as not, forget to mention anything so quotidian as the century of origin (see above).
Apparently the collection was overhauled a few years ago – actually, I remember it happening. I recall how aghast people were that the disorganisation would have been firmly shaken into organisation, and that the Pitt-Rivers would have lost its charm. They needn’t have worried. It’s great fun to be able to open a discreet little drawer, and find a varied selection of globular flutes tucked away.
Unsurprisingly, I was drawn to the section on the history of writing and writing instruments – including something from 2500 BC. Here’s a quick, slightly blurry snap of about a sixth of what they had on display in this area.
Although I have put off going for many years, and have learnt remarkably little today (except for the amazing coffins which are produced in Ghana – they had a special video about it) I would thoroughly recommend the Pitt-Rivers to any visitor to Oxford – simply because of its ingenious eccentricity. Each artefact in the collection (apparently about half a million) represents hours of human labour – to have them all gathered in one place creates an astonishing miscellany of humans and their infinite variety.
And speaking of eccentricity… I decided to experiment with my baking. These are ginger cupcakes with lime-flavoured icing. I love ginger and I love lime, and thought these flavours might well taste nice together: I think I was right! They certainly aren’t aesthetically up to scratch (they all overflowed the cases, for one thing) but they’re fun – and I think they’ll prove worth trying again!
P.S. it’s Our Vicar’s Wife’s birthday today – wish her a good one!