Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

The Occasional Paper that never was

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

Editorial note by Penniman and Blackwood to Stone Implements of the Tasmanians, a possible publication by Balfour [written in 1940]

The Pitt Rivers Museum is designed to illustrate the origin, development, geographical distribution, and variation of the arts and industries of mankind throughout the world from the earliest times to the age of mass production. This arrangement by subjects rather than by geographical provinces was the unique invention of the founder, General Pitt Rivers. Under the direction of the first Curator, Henry Balfour, the Museum grew to many times its original size, augmented largely by his own long and hazardous journeys, many of them undertaken after he was seriously crippled, and also by the many friends and pupils throughout the world who were inspired by his teaching and example to collect for the Museum. Thanks to his austere devotion to scientific accuracy, the Museum is one of the best documented in the world. As the scientific world knows, and the bibliography abundantly displays, the late Curator wrote with authority on a very large number of the subjects of the Museum. He died in the midst of his work, leaving a considerable number of notes and papers unfinished, and beautifully illustrated diaries of all of the journeys listed at the end of this book. [Handwritten insert] Later some of this work may be published by the Museum, if funds can be raised [end insert]
So many of the collections already made, or in the process of making, yet require working through and publishing, that the Editors have decided to begin a series of Occasional Papers on Technology, asking research students who have worked on and arranged collections here or others who have worked on subjects of this Museum to publish their work under its auspices. The papers will, on the whole, be a continuation of the kind of papers listed in the bibliography [Handwritten insert] covering a wide field of ethnological problems and questions of technique, [end insert] and every care will be taken to make them worthy sucessors to the high standards of their author. For example, this Museum has long encouraged experiments in the technique of making flint implements, and has large and growing collections of material. We are engaged on the arrangement of this material for exhibition, and hope that it may become a subject of the next occasional paper. It is fitting, however, that the first paper in this series should have been written by the late Curator. It ensures continuity between the old and the new series, and sets a standard.
The technological status of the lately extinct Tasmanians among Stone-Age peoples was a subject that captured Balfour's interest very early in his career, and held it to the end of his life. It was in 1892, when he had hardly finished his first full year as Curator, that he began to collect Tasmanian implements, and to form tentative conclusions which later work proved to be true. It was just over thirty years after he had made his first collection of a few hundred specimens that the opportunity came for him to verify these conclusions to his satisfaction. About 1923, Dr Aubrey Westlake placed at his disposal over 12,000 Tasmanian implements collected by his father, Dr Ernest Westlake, between 1906 and 1908. By 1925, he had drawn, catalogued, and examined about 5000 of these from about 40 sites, and considered that he had sufficient data to address the Prehistoric Society of East Anglia on the subject. By 1939, when he died, he had catalogued and drawn about 12,000 implements from 140 sites. The publication of the types of implements used by these modern Stone-Age people is a duty both to the author and to the collector, as well as to all students of primitive peoples.
The present manuscript was nearly finished at the time of Balfour's death, and the editors have left it as he wrote it, except for verifying or adding foot-notes which he had obviously contemplated planned to write. [section crossed out with typed XXXs and therefore unreadable] Alteration or revision of things perfect in their kind is seldom, if ever, a success, and the editors have contemplated no such impiety. The thirteen plates of implements which he drew have been checked with the implements and with the text, and numbered accordingly. A map shewing the sites of artefacts pictured in the plates has been added, and a list of these sites, as well as a complete list of sites from which the whole collection came. The numbers opposite the names of the sites are to be found on all of the implements in the collection, which is in [Handwritten insert] now the property of [end insert] the Museum and available to students [Handwritten insert] Work on this collection is continuing in the Museum [end insert] A bibliography and list of journeys shew the extent of Balfour's scientific activity. Dr Haddon, his life-long friend, has contributed a short biography. The editors are indebted to Dr Meinhard for photographs of the bone implement, and to Sir Francis Knowles for his help in the checking of implements with text and plates.

The Pitt Rivers Museum

 Technologies & Materials