Hebdomadal Council 1883 [2]

Please note that these have been transcribed and not edited, all misspellings or mis-punctations are in the original and are not sic'd. Warning: this report has not been proofread except by the transcriber

PRM Box 1, 1-33: 12-13

The Pitt-Rivers Collection

The following brief account is intended to enable Members of the University to form some idea of the nature and value of the Collection which Major-General Pitt-Rivers, F.R.S., has generously offered to present to the University.

The Collection, which at present occupies three large rooms in the West Galleries of the Exhibition-buildings at South Kensington, has been gradually formed by General Pitt-Rivers (late Lane-Fox) during twenty-seven years of constant devotion to anthropological studies. Two years ago it was estimated to contain 14,000 objects, and since that time many additions have been made.

The purpose of the Collection is to throw light on the history of all the various arts, on the successive stages in their growth, on the extent to which nations or tribes haves borrowed one from another, and on the independent development of similar forms in different countries and times. With this view the Collection has been arranged on a new plan, and in this its distinctive value consists. The arrangement is neither chronological nor geographical, but objects belonging to different peoples and ages have been grouped together in series, so as to illustrate the probable order of development. In this respect the Collection stands almost alone, its only rival being that in the Museum of Modern Antiquities in Copenhagen; and what has there been done for one or two branches of the subject, has been done here on a far wider and more comprehensive scale. But it is not only for the general student of anthropology that the Collection is of value. To both archaeologists and historians it contributes not only single objects of great interest and rarity, but much material for the solution of such problems as the effect upon barbarous art of contact with civilised peoples, the growth of ornamentation, the survival of rude forms of art among civilised peoples, the recurrence of similar forms in different localities, and the dependence of art upon physical conditions.

The following rough summary of the contents of the Collection may serve to illustrate what has been said:—

(1) A collection of prehistoric weapons and instruments, including a specially valuable series of Palaeolithic weapons from Acton. A fine series of Neolithic weapons from Denmark. A series of stone and bronze weapons from Ireland. A series of stone hammers. A series showing the gradual conversion of the simple bronze celt into the socketed form. Lastly, series of bronze hammers, of spear-heads and swords, and of implements of bone and ivory.

(ii) A collection of objects belonging to historic times.

A. Collection of weapons (of this a printed catalogue already exists) including—

(a) Defensive Armour :— Series of parrying sticks and shields from Australia, India and Polynesia. European shields of fifteenth century. Series of circular shields. Body armour from Polynesia, Japan, and China; Mogul scale and chain armour. Series of helmets, including bronze Greek and Etruscan helmets.

(b) Offensive weapons :— Series of boomerangs from Australia, India and North Africa. Throwing sticks. Bows. Cross-bows and quivers. Series of clubs, maces, and wooden battle-axes. Series of paddles, spears, javelins, and arrows. Series illustrating the development of the axe, halberd, glaive, and other cognate weapons. Several series illustrating the development and geographical distribution of various forms of swords, daggers, slings, lassoes, &c. A series of fire arms. A series showing the growth of the bayonet.

B. Collection of objects connected with domestic life, &c.

(a) Series illustrating modes of kindling fire :— Savage fire-sticks, flints, tinder-boxes, &c. Series of lamps (Babylonian, Roman, Egyptian, modern Algerian). Collections of mirrors, spoons, knives, &c.

(b) Valuable series of pottery and of bronze, silver, and glass vessels, illustrating especially the development of the various forms, and of the decorative patterns. This series comprises, besides a remarkably fine stand of Cypriote [sic] vases, Greco-Etruscan pottery, Samian ware, specimens from Mexico, Peru, India, Africa, Algeria, Japan &c; and also a collection of decorated gourds, and of basket-work.

(c) A collection of personal ornaments, necklaces, armlets, clasps, fibulae, &c, illustrating the development of particular forms. Especially valuable are the various series of gold and bronze ornaments (Cypriote [sic], Greek, Roman, Etruscan, Celtic, and Mexican).

(d) A collection showing the development of musical instruments (drums, stringed instruments, shell, horn, ivory, and bronze trumpets, &c.).

(e) A collection of objects of religious worship, and of charms, votive offerings, relics, divining-rods, &c. The series of votive offerings is very interesting. It ranges over a wide field, from ancient Cyprus to modern Brittany, and exhibits the most instructive coincidences of belief and ritual.

(f) A series illustrating the growth of the art of writing, including savage marks, Oghams, Runic inscriptions, &c.

(g) Series illustrating the realistic representation of human and animal forms (including some very fine terra cottas from Cyprus and Tanagra, Roman and Etruscan bronzes, Japanese masks of the sixteenth century, &c.). Series illustrating the conventionalised treatment of animal forms in decoration.

Series of mediæval panels illustrating the development of leaf-patterns out of architectural designs (to this the history of mural paintings at Pompeii offers an exact parallel, in the gradual transformation of the architectural designs into ornamental borders).

(h) A collection of harness, horse-shoes, spurs, and stirrups, ancient and modern.

(i) A series illustrating the history of boat and ship-building, comprising many beautifully-executed models of savage canoes.

It only remains to be said that this rough sketch will have served its purpose, if it succeeds in conveying some idea not only of the great intrinsic value of this Collection but of its inestimable scientific interest, and of its direct bearing on our ordinary lines of study here. It is no mere miscellaneous jumble of curiosities, but an orderly illustration of human history; and its contents have not been picked up haphazard from dealers' shops, but carefully selected at first hand with rare industry and judgment. In one respect, moreover, General Pitt-Rivers has done a work which is never likely to be done again, for a collection of weapons, tools, &c., belonging to savage races is becoming a more difficult matter every year as the number of tribes untouched by civilisation decreases, while at the same time we are only just beginning to appreciate the importance of such collections for the interpretation of the early life of civilised peoples.

OXFORD, January 1883.’

The same report was circulated in the University Gazette of 6 February 1883

Transcribed by AP for the Rethinking Pitt-Rivers project, July 2010.

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