17. Report of the Curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum (Department of Ethnology) for the year ending 31 July 1941

The many friends of the Museum throughout the world will be glad to know that the University realizes both the importance of maintaining, preserving, and if need be, restoring its large and valuable collections, and even of adding to them under present circumstances. During the past year the Curator observed that conditions were bringing on to the market valuable specimens which filled important gaps here, and thought it better for them to be housed for all time in a public museum than to suffer the vicissitudes of private ownership and perhaps be finally lost to the world. Council placed a sum of money at our disposal with the wise provision that the Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum and the Curator of the Museum of the History of Science be consulted before drawing on the fund, both to avoid duplication of effort, and to establish our different provinces. This provision has been of value in directing material where it has most significance. The Pitt-Rivers Collection aims to show the origin, development, geographical distribution and variation of the principal arts and industries of mankind from the earliest times to the age of mass production, and the collections are used both for teaching these arts and industries and their ethnological significance, and for teaching the General Ethnology of the areas of the world. Our archaeological collections do not conflict with those of the Ashmolean. Archaeology is past Ethnology, and its earlier part up to the invention of agriculture is fittingly taught here, in close connexion with the Department of Geology. Thanks to the great industry and generosity of Sir Francis Knowles and Professor A. S. Barnes, and to the help of Mr. A.D. Lacaille and Mr. S. Hazzledine Warren during the past year, we have added greatly to our collections and ability to teach this subject. A main source of strength is in our comparative material from peoples who were in the Stone Age at the time of their discovery by Europeans, and in our series illustrating techniques of working. Against this richness must be set some poverty in European material, mainly Mesolithic and Upper Palaeolithic, a gap which the Musée de l’Homme of Paris has promised in part to fill. Our friends can judge as well as we when the happy day will come. From the time of the invention of agriculture, textiles, metallurgy, pottery, transport and navigation, music, writing, and other basic arts and industries, our collections, both archaeological and later, are arranged under those subjects, and while we need certain authenticated type collections from archaeological sites to complete our series, we leave to the Ashmolean large archaeological collections by periods and areas of culture, as well as the securing of painting and sculpture such as art galleries ought to show. In lecturing on the Archaeology of the Near East the Curator uses the Ashmolean collections, some of which were excavated by himself, and in lecturing on the Origins of Civilization, draws heavily on the collections of this Museum and of the Ashmolean. Specimens which show the development of modern sciences belong to the Museum of the History of Science. Relations between the three Museums are very happy, and things get sorted into their rightful homes.

The maintenance, preservation, and restoration of the collections have been suitably financed, considering the situation, and will continue to be so during the coming year. Mr. Green, though a fine cabinet maker, has shown us great kindness and patience in using old partitions, packing cases, and screens, and has pieced them together with skill and some beauty to make a good range of cupboards in a long room. We have to thank the Delegates of the University Museum for a grant from the Maintenance Fund which paid for the work and the small amount of new wood needed for a respectable finish. Mr. Walters and Mr. Whiting deserve our gratitude for clearing this glory hole, and preventing many valuable specimens of every conceivable material from rotting down into compost heaps. This room is now used for reception, so that we know first that all material unentered in Accessions Books will be in one place, and secondly that its possible moth, rust, worm, or other corruption will not infect the rest of the collections.

It is a favourite room with our pupils for it is sunny, and they need not be too tidy. Here they make flint implements under the direction of Professor Barnes, try their hands at spinning or weaving, work out the scales of primitive musical instruments or listen to recordings of them, spread out big maps, or read. We are gradually collecting models or other equipment so that students can work out and practise the basic processes and mechanisms before they begin their study of native arts and crafts and their distribution. Such knowledge adds greatly to the value of their reading, and is a natural introduction to the study of peoples, both at home and in field work abroad. Materials for this sort of teaching are charged to maintenance and equipment rather than to the account for specimens.

The staff have also finished clearing the work room of accumulations, and Mr. Green has finished the long range of deep cupboards in that room. It is already full, and before another couple of years are out, we shall be overcrowded again. When we move into the vacated Geology Department after the war is over and give up Museum House in return to Physical Anthropology, we shall find some temporary relief, but the only ultimate solution will be in building a substantial new building as set out in our report to Council, where we can pull ourselves together out of four buildings into one, have some room to show and teach the meaning of our million or so of specimens, and use our Library conveniently with them. A dry basement room is being fitted to store various regional collections so that the Demonstrator in Ethnology [Beatrice Blackwood] will not be obliged to search the Museum for a day or two before each lecture on an area in her course on the General Ethnology of the world.

In the Main Court the Chest has provided wire netting which is stretched tightly under the glass roof. It looks well, and judging by reports from other Galleries in the Museums Journal, will afford considerable protection for the collections below under certain conditions. Some of the very rare old collections have been divided into several places, and as we have four buildings in all, they are probably as safe here as in four places elsewhere, especially as we can examine them periodically.

As on a farm or in a large family, there is always something going wrong and needing attention to put it right. Last year the shipwrights’ models began falling to bits, and Mr. Johnson put them into good condition for another 150 years. Several things needed doctoring this year.

Early in March the clearance of the long room gave Mr. R.J.C. Atkinson of Magdalen College the desired opportunity to overhaul our varied collection of several hundred bronzes, nearly all of which required some treatment, while many had started to grow the long green whiskers which show malignant corrosion. Some objects were effectively treated with a solution of caustic soda and tartaric acid, and others by a bath in weak suphuric acid followed by an alkaline bath, but the bulk were soaked in a strong solution of sodium sesquicarbonate, which removed the malignant patina, leaving unharmed the stable patina which has the colour so much admired in ancient bronzes, and revealing much unsuspected detail of workmanship. Inlay and tied-on labels are protected by a coat of celluloid and acetone. So far, about 50 objects are in their final bath, and Mr. Atkinson hopes in his periods of leave to work through the whole collection.

Mr. H. F. Walters has arranged an annual routine of inspection and salvage, and he and Mr. Whiting, like the painters of the Forth Bridge, start at the beginning as soon as they have reached the end. This task in four different buildings, together with the cleaning, disinfection, and sometimes restoration of three to four thousand new specimens each year, and the constant attendance on students and visitors, as well as a watch on the fabric, is more than enough for two men. We shall need additional help when the war is over, and soon, as both men are of the same age and will eventually retire together, and their successors must be trained in a multitude of occupations, for we deal with nearly every material used by human beings the world over. Among notable labours of restoration has been Mr. Walter’s work on Eskimo garments of walrus and seal intestine collected by the historic expeditions of the early 19th century. These beautiful transparent costumes were hard as boards and breaking up, and fur was falling from the rest of our Eskimo and Siberian clothing. He treated the lot with medicinal paraffin brushed lightly into the skin, and they became supple and easily mended, and no more fur falls out. Other considerable tasks completed by him and Mr. Whiting were the collecting and cleaning of the armour, and of the newly arrived Beasley collection. Miss J. Watters has ably restored some of our American Indian beadwork, which was falling off its background. It was intricate labour needing great skill and patience.

Among activities in the Galleries may be mentioned an exhibition of Balkan Peasant Work, presented by Miss Durham, one of our most generous friends, and attractively arranged by Mr. Atkinson. It represents in a striking way the complicated ethnology of the Balkans, to the understanding of which she has so notably contributed. In the one case may be seen prehistoric motifs from the Bronze Age, pagan and magical ideas of the past still living, together with the ideas of Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, Islam, Mithraism, Rome and Byzantium, expressed in ornaments collected in the early years of this century, and mainly contemporary with it. Some readers have already received the catalogue, and there are still a few left for people specially interested.

Another notable collection has been arranged and mainly given by Professor Barnes. In three large table cases he has displayed, with printed explanations, a series of natural fractures stimulating human workmanship in flint and other stone, together with a set of drawings mounted on glass to illustrate and explain the features of a number of human flaking techniques which are being placed beneath the drawings. A place has been fitted in Museum House where he makes plaster casts and cut-out cardboard drawings mounted at an angle fill serious gaps in our teaching apparatus, and made as they are by a master of scholarship and technique, show our pupils essential facts of workmanship in an admirable way. The Museum is fortunate to claim his interest and devotion. He has been a perfect factory of specimens and equipment.

Sir Francis Knowles and Mr. Atkinson have completed the arrangement comparing the Stone Age industries of different parts of the Old World, followed by a comparative series of native Stone Age industries of peoples who still used stone tools when they were discovered by Europeans. With the Curator, Mr. Atkinson is preparing a handbook and labels, and Miss Blackwood has filled empty places with excellent photographs. We wait now for wood to make screens for the accompanying maps, descriptions, and pictures. Knowles has prepared a census of our many thousand stone implements, and has made it possible for us to know what we have, where it is, and what we most need. He has also started the section on techniques with an exhibition of cores from which implements have been struck, classified according to the technique employed by the flint-worker, and the type of flake which is his objective. To accompany it, he has prepared a catalogue, finely illustrated in pen and ink and water colour, inspection of which teaches many facts of the craft of the ancient worker.

About 20,000 cards have been written this year towards indexing the Accessions Books by donors, regions, and subjects. Mrs. Meinhard supervises their arrangement, and deals with some of the more difficult books. Mr. Gibbs, Mrs. Maspero, and Mrs. Clibborn are helping to bring this work up to date, and already in adolescence, it is proving most useful in saving our time and easing our temper. Miss Blackwood has made a preliminary catalogue of our large library of lantern slides, negatives, and cinematograph films, which badly needs a separate room for ready reference and use. Mr. Gibbs has greatly improved and developed the catalogue of our many amulets. Apparently we have an appropriate charm against any evil that could befall anyone in the wide world, whatever his beliefs may be. Mr. Kenneth Hutton is working out the scales of all our oboes, and Major Pollard, author of several standard works on small arms, has been cataloguing our comparative series of obsolete firearms, the nucleus of the Pitt-Rivers Museum and the origin of its being. Dr. Meinhard is proceeding with the regional catalogue of material received after 1940 on large cards with photographs and descriptions, and has printed a number of fine large descriptive labels which add greatly to the value of some exhibitions. Mr. Robins, author of The Story of the Lamp, is continuing the catalogue of several thousand lamps and lighting appliances when he can get to Oxford. Much of our older American Indian material is labelled simply “American Indian”. Mr. Turner has been co-operating with Miss Blackwood in assigning accurate provenances and explanations of these fine old specimens of craftsmanship. Notable work involving much correspondence and research by Mr. Turner was done on an exceptional type of ceinture fléchée, on moose-and other hair embroidery, and on the collection of tsantsas from the Jibaro Indians of eastern Ecuador. We thank the Bankfield Museum of Halifax for lending us specimens of moose-hair embroidery, and our former pupil Dr. Marius Barbeau of the National Museum of Canada for much information on the ceinture fléchée and other subjects.

The cataloguing of our libraries is being continued by Mr. and Miss Ford of the Radcliffe Science Library, to whom we are grateful for sparing time out of their short periods of leisure to keep us in some sort of order. If our many books and periodicals and pamphlets are to take their necessary and proper place with the collections in teaching and research, we must have a full time Librarian and Secretary. Unless the various routines and details are delegated under proper headings instead of being concentrated on one devoted head, vigorous administration is stultified in time by weariness, and a Department marks time or becomes derelict.

Teaching has been varied and unusually interesting this year, both of students for the Diploma in Anthropology and for Ethnology as a special subject in the Honour School of Geography. Two new courses were given, each throughout the year, one by the Curator on The Origins of Civilization, and one by the Demonstrator, Miss Blackwood, on an Ethnological Survey of the world. To illustrate this latter course Miss Blackwood made about 500 lantern slides, as well as a number for the Curator’s course, a most valuable addition to our collection. We are grateful to Miss Durham for lending negatives from the Balkans, to Dr. J. V. Harrison for negatives from Baluchistan, and to Dr. Polunin for negatives illustrating the Polar regions and peoples. Individual tuition followed a new plan. Students who so desired were given access to collections according to their interest, and no two prepared the same weekly essay on their work. Results justified this method, as all of the different approaches led towards the main problems of race, culture, and environment, and their treatment showed independent judgement and freshness of outlook. The Curator gave the usual summary on Race, Culture and Environment, and gave the courses on Prehistory, Useful and Aesthetic Arts as individual tuition, since conditions made the attendance of Diploma students somewhat irregular. We have been indebted to Professor Barnes for practical demonstration and teaching the way to make flint implements, and for introducing some of our students to a study of the characteristics of such implements when treated by statistical methods. The results were of great value in the study of our large Biddenham collection made by Sir Francis Knowles, and have been well described by one of our pupils, Mr. W. C. Brice. Professor Myres undertook special tuition in archaeology and Sir Francis Knowles in Native Industries for which we thank them. At the request of Professor Le Gros Clark Miss Blackwood undertook the teaching of Physical Anthropology pending the appointment of a Reader, and continued our useful collaboration with the Ashmolean Museum in regular work on archaeological sites.

Among other work, the Curator and Demonstrator served for a second year on the Council of the Royal Anthropological Institute, the Curator was President for the second time of the University Anthropological Society, and the Demonstrator lectured to the Royal Anthropological Institute on ‘Some Arts and Industries of New Guinea and New Britain’, and to the Ashmolean Natural History Society on ‘Crafts of Mexico, Past and Present’. She has published the ‘Use of Plants among the Kukukuku of Southeast Central New Guinea’ in the Proceedings of the Sixth Pacific Sciences Congress, vol. iv, University of California Press, 1941. Sir Francis Knowles has sent to the Press his illustrated article on the making of flint implements, the result of years of experience here and abroad, and it will appear as one of our Occasional Papers on Technology. He and Professor Barnes are preparing a paper on aboriginal Tasmanian industries. Dr. Meinhard has written a paper on an old carved West African drum lent by the Ladies’ College of Cheltenham, and continued work for ultimate publication on subjects connected with India. He has helped in research on ornament by Dr. Schuster, by Dr. Steiner on semilunar knives, outrigger canoes, and whistling arrows, by Dr. Lenk-Chevitch on the distribution of a type of knife found by himself in Ruanda, and by Dr. Cohn on Chinese bronze mirrors. Mr. Turner is at work on a paper on moose-and other hair embroidery in North America and Siberia, a technique which has received little or no attention in this country. During the year he demonstrated the arts and industries of the Pueblo Indians in the Museum to the Ashmolean Natural History Society, with the aid of specimens, models made by himself, and gramophone records. Miss Taylor of Delvid Farm, Llangennith, Gower, is growing some wheat sent to the Museum from Mohenjo-daro, for the Curator who is trying with the help of Dr. Polunin of the Department of Botany and by correspondence to solve one of the minor mysteries in our collections. Last year the Curator failed to mention one of our pleasanter activities. Miss Blackwood noticed in the News Chronicle that Miss MacDonald of Wilstone School near Tring was teaching the children how to spin, dye and weave the wool gathered from hedges. Some time before the war began the Curator was able to send her the fleeces of three pet lambs from Delvid Farm, named Faith, Hope and Charity, since one was bigger than the other two, and with the help of Miss Galpin of Dorchester, a generous friend of the Museum, to give some advice about the work. The children showed their appreciation by spinning, dyeing and weaving a handsome large scarf from some wool of these lambs. The scarf, now in the Curator’s room, is much admired by visitors, not only for its workmanship, but as an example of a kind of training which ought to be more generally developed in schools.

The Museum has had more visitors than usual, including members of H. M. Forces, who have shown great interest in the subjects displayed and received some instruction. Specimens have been lent to other museums for special exhibitions, and a large number of farm implements were lent to Mrs. Spurgin, a former pupil, for a special agricultural show in Gloucestershire. Parties of school children with their teachers from Oxford and other cities have been frequent visitors.

This year visitors have missed their genial and knowledgeable conductor, Mr. H. J. Walters, who has retired on pension and handed over the government to his son after 46 years of valuable and devoted service to the Museum and its Curators. His many friends all over the world will be glad to know that he often comes here and takes a keen interest in all we do and in the people he knew. They will not grudge him more leisure to spend on gardening, fishing and his club.

Accessions have been numerous and interesting. Among purchases have been an old wooden-frame and an iron-frame loom with material for demonstration, and a few additions to the collection representing the History of Automatic Music, the only subject hitherto unrepresented in our valuable and extensive collection of musical instruments, and one which we believe is unlikely to be found in any other Museum. Neuchâtel and Peking have collections devoted to musical automata, but not generally to automatic music. Purchases include a Nicole Frères Table Grand musical box of 1860 with six cylinders playing six tunes each, a Geneva Forte-Piano Overture box of about 1840, a meyer Marix with organ and orchestral attachment, playing 36 tunes, and a musical clock. These have attracted great interest and several gifts and loans, including a fine Polyphon with 40 fifteen-inch disks given by Mr. J. F. Harrison, a musical box lent by Mr. J. M. Thompson of Magdalen College. This, like several others, is being repaired and made to work perfectly by Mr. H. F. Walters. A little derelict serinette, a sort of pipe organ for teaching canaries to sign tunes, is being repaired for us by Canon Wintle of Bury St. Edmunds. The mechanisms of the tightrope walker and serinette are both admirably explained by Chapuis and Gélis in their two great volumes of Le Monde des Automates. Purchases for the Library have mainly been concentrated on completing and continuing the series of periodicals given by the late Curator, and in bringing up to date our archaeological section, which was weakest in modern work. Here again, these are supplemented by gifts from people who wanted to fill difficult lacunae. A few gramophone records of exotic music have been added to our present collection for regular demonstration of the music of the peoples of the world whose instruments we possess, and whose musical systems are not generally familiar to students of European music.

Among the more interesting loans, apart from the automata mentioned, are Sir Arthur Evans’s Albanian Gunflint Knapper’s Outfit from the Ashmolean Museum, described and figured in the Journal of the Anthropological Institute for August 1886, and a beautiful small collection from the Governing Body of the Queen’s College, of ancient mere and tiki from New Zealand, and of paddles and clubs from the Hervey and Austral Islands. When Professor Battiscombe Gunn, who helped us to secure the collection, showed us these lovely greenstones which had been in the College for over a century, we were delighted and astonished, for they bore the name of a Maori chief of the Arawa tribe, Tippohow. This chief was undoubtedly Te Pahau, the great-great-grandfather of Mr. W. F. Dennan, a member of the Queen’s College in 1921 and one of our pupils. His mother was the famous Makereti, sometimes chieftainess of the Arawa tribe of New Zealand, known there as Maggie Papakura. She also was our pupil, and many who were priviledged to know her in Oxford remember her vividly as a great interpreter of a great people and treasure her book, published after her death, on The Old-Time Maori. Other loans which particularly pleased us were Mr. Layard’s set of records of the music of Malekula, Miss Canziani’s considerable collection of costumes of exquisite workmanship in brilliant colour from the Palestine Folk Museum, obtained by the good offices of Mrs. Barbour and Miss Canziani.

Many gifts have already been mentioned in appropriate places. We treasure especially the late Sir Arthur Evans’s collection from Lappland, given by his sister Dr. Joan Evans, not only for its ethnological value, but as a memorial of a great pioneer in Archaeology and Anthropology. Other considerable gifts were a large collection from Oceania, America, Africa, and Asia formed by the late Mr. H. G. Beasley of the Cranmore Museum, and given to us by his wife in accordance with his will, the Rev. James William’s excellent series illustrating the culture of the Macusi Indians of British Guiana, given by Mrs. Williams, Mr. H. Crook’s set of photographic negatives, cinematograph films, and matrices of phonograph records made by our former pupil Captain Rattray in West Africa, and Professor Seligman’s large and valuable collection from many parts of the world. Mention should be made of Mr. E. J. Dunn, the large East African archaeological collection of Mr. T. P. O’Brien, and the interesting series of wooden locks from the Greek Islands given by Professor Dawkins of Exeter College. These were received in previous years, but are now removed from storage and entered. Dr. Meyer Fortes helped us to represent the Tallensi tribe of the Northern Territory of the Gold Coast, hitherto a blank area in this Museum, Mr. A. E. Gunther gave us a part of his father’s European collections, a welcome gift, as we are trying to improve this section, and the Geology Department transferred to us a set of models of natural forms in stone and stone implements made by Mr. Hazzledine Warren. This is invaluable for teaching. A superb necklace of pieces of sperm whale teeth which once belonged to King Thakombau of Fiji and was given by him to the Rev. James Calvert, was brought to us by Miss Calvert, as the gift of Pilot Officer James Lionel Calvert, who died of wounds received on active service on 20 September 1939, aged 22. He wanted us to have it, and gave it to his aunt to bring it to us.

Our activities are many and varied, as they should be, and ought to be extended. We are grateful to the volunteers who help us during the emergency to order and make useful to the University and to the world our many and extensive subjects. In normal times more research and publication should issue from this Department. Simply to cope with the administration of a considerable number of varied duties is one matter, and a matter of the first importance in our functioning. But far too much time is spent by the Curator and Demonstrator in the routine tasks of collecting, sorting, finding true facts about material, and entering, labelling, and distributing thousands of objects in a hand-to-mouth manner, little time being left to plan well for the Department for fear of being snowed under or crowded out. Meanwhile there is a constant stream of inquiries, many of which require some intelligence and research to answer with authority, to say nothing of the time taken, and the constant inspection of a vast deal of valuable material to ensure its preservation in good condition. There is also a good deal of teaching, in which we delight, which might profitably be extended, and exploration, as one glory hole after another is cleared. To relieve us of much routine duty and give a little time for research and consideration of the best possible development of the Department of Ethnology for the University and for its greater public, a permanent Assistant Curator will be a necessity after the war is over.


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