Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Defining artefacts that reflect technology at the Pitt Rivers Museum

Alison Petch,
Researcher 'The Other Within' project

Occasional paper 'Classification of Artefacts' by Beatrice Blackwood

Occasional paper 'Classification of Artefacts' by Beatrice Blackwood

Chart defining where items classified as 'Technique' came from

Chart defining where items classified as 'Technique' came from

Front of another of the special catalogue cards for lighting appliances

Front of another of the special catalogue cards for lighting appliances

The computerised collections management database that the Museum uses to manage its artefacts has a classification category called 'Technique' used to identify artefacts which appear to have been obtained to illustrate particular techniques or technologies. The categories used in the collections management database today are based upon those listed in Beatrice Blackwood's seminal publication, 'Classification'. However, the items listed under this heading will not be all the artefacts that might have been identified in this manner. Many such items will have been accessioned as 'straight forward' artefacts, for example as a water basket from South West United States of America, whereas in fact the museum was interested in acquiring it as an unusual example of a particular basketry technique, but this was not recorded in the accession record. There has been no systematic attempt to re-categorise each artefact in the Museum for this category. Items marked as being related to Technique usually note something to this end in the accession book entry, for example:

Accession Book Entry - DR R.L.C.C. CLAY [sic], ...., Fovant, Nr. Salisbury. 1925.898 - [1 of a] Series of specimens illustrating the manufacture of D-shaped gun-flints. From early gun-flint factory sites in S. WILTS.
Accession Book Entry - H. BALFOUR Esq. Dec ... - card showing process of manufacture of fish hooks ... made by Allcock and Co., Redditch.

There are a total of 5,769 artefacts linked to this concept in the Museum, from all over the world.

Nearly half of all the global items identified as being linked to Technique (2,547) are from England (95 per cent of the ones from Europe), which suggests that the different techniques used for preparing English artefacts may have been of more interest, or easier to collect, than those from other countries, or other parts of the world.

In her 1970 publication, 'Classification' Beatrice Blackwood identified the following ways of defining different aspects of 'Technique':

Red deer
Experiments with bone
Bows, composite
Dyeing techniques other than for textiles
Wax resist dyeing
Easter Eggs
Gypsum working
Hair Embroidery
Sperm whale
Sus scrofa
Vegetable Ivory
Wart hog
Pottery, experimental
Nephrite cutting and sawing
Flint fracture and working, experimental
Flint, types of
Nodular flint
Tabular flint
Flint working, Brandon
Hafting, technique of
Imitations of ancient tools
Natural action
Natural fracture
Morpholiths, see under Geology
Patination and glazing
Tandu: series illustrating technique
Wood: type specimen

The above list is dominated by stone tool technology. As can be seen these are either raw materials (antler, bone, stone, wood) or forms of technique which mostly reflect museum's staff interest. It is also noticeable that the list omits basketry, textile and lighting technology, which I chose to include and are now included as techniques or technologies in the computerised database classifications. I have added links to the list above to the sections on the technology website dealing with the particular techniques or materials.

See here for more information about artefacts defined as being linked to Technique

Further Reading

Blackwood, Beatrice. 1970. The Classification of Artefacts in the Pitt Rivers Museum [Pitt Rivers Museum Occasional Paper on Technology, XI]

 Technologies & Materials