17. Report of the Curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum (Department of Ethnology) for the year ending 31 July 1944
Curator: T.K. Penniman, M.A., Trinity College.
University Demonstrator and Lecturer in Ethnology: B.M.Blackwood, B.Sc., M.A., Somerville College.

Progress in administration of the collections during the past year has been solid and satisfactory rather than spectacular, and the foundations for future development have been well begun. At the request of the University a full statement of our immediate needs for space, money, and personnel has been made and sympathetically received. The Curator and Demonstrator have indexed regionally the original Pitt Rivers Collections and the ethnological collections sent by the Old Ashmolean Museum in 1886, which include the specimens collected by Captain Cook and early explorers of the North-West Passage. This involved the writing of about 20,000 regional and collectors’ or donors’ cards, and the collation with about a dozen other books of collections, to make certain whether we had one or more of each of various specimens, and sometimes entering sets of objects in accessions books for the first time, especially when these had arrived before the long reign of the late Curator. Cards can be removed or mislaid by carelessness without malice, but numbered pages in bound and numbered volumes are like a cash book with entries on alternate pages, and notes on the opposite page concerning the use of specimens for exchange, or stating their condition. Mrs. Maspero and Miss Allen have voluntarily helped us by continuing the index of the ordinary Donors’ volumes, and we are grateful for their patience and skill.

Dr. Meinhard has all but concluded the entry of the Jeffreys collection of about 2,900 specimens from Nigeria and the Cameroons, acquired by the good offices of Professor Gunn and the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum, and this has been cleared from Museum House to the Iron Shed where Mr. Walters and Mr. Whiting have most ingeniously carpentered and grouped second-hand and derelict furniture to house it. Their skilful work in the restoration and preservation of objects damaged by travel and about ten years in packing cases has made them strong and safe for many years to come, and a grant from the Maintenance Fund by the Delegates of the University Museum has helped to ensure their continued preservation under cover and in order.

The order and cleanliness of this area inspired the Curator to attack Museum House which former readers will remember as a principal worry of the late Curator, and which we must one day vacate. Nearly all of the large Westlake collection of about 12,000 stone implements is now in classified drawers, and about 5,000 other specimens are classified and distributed elsewhere, or roughly classified in closed packing cases in Museum House, so that for the time we can find them fairly quickly, and can ultimately move with speed, decency and cleanliness.

In the Main Museum the Curator, ably assisted by Mr. Walters and Mr. Whiting, has removed accretions from several cases, and restored their original meaning. We have worked especially on the cases of firearms, whose study as a gunnery instructor led General Pitt Rivers to form the present collections to illustrate the origin, development, and geographical and other variation of arts and industries, and one case is already completed, illustrating with labels by the Curator the development of the Matchlock, Wheel-lock, Snaphaunce, and Flintlock. We are now at work revising the Percussion series. The Curator has set out an exhibition of ancient South American pottery showing the Nasca, Chimu, Chancay, Inca and Diaguite styles, and has also arranged the North American Pueblo pottery sent by J. W. Powell in the ‘eighties to Tylor and Moseley, or later collected by Miss Friere-Marreco and Miss Blackwood. We have good examples of Zuñi, Acoma, Santa Clara, San Ildefonso, Santo Domingo, Santa Ana, and Cochiti from New Mexico, and of Hopi from Arizona, as made in the last and early present centuries, but little archaeological material, and this gap we would gladly remedy. Rearrangement and relabelling were made much easier by the notes given to us by Mr. O’Bryan, a former pupil from the American South-West.

A new and most interesting exhibition in the main Court was called to our attention by the Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum and was secured by the kindness of Mrs. Allen and a contribution to the Central Asian Exploration Fund, a project ever at heart by that prince of explorers Sir Aurel Stein. This collection, all made by Sir Aurel in Chinese Turkestan, or Sinkiang as it is often now called, includes three beautiful eighteenth-century coats in yellow, red-brown, and blue, embroidered with Imperial five-clawed dragons, clouds, flowers, sea-waves, and the holy mountain of Omei which rises sheer from the Szechwan Plain, from which Lady Hosie lately brought us a collection of pilgrim-staves. Other textiles are of the nineteenth century, and these and the graceful modern brass-work and jewellery show in a most interesting way the interaction of Chinese, Persian and Indian work. This mixture of motifs, and even some of the individual motifs, recall Miss Durham’s collection from the Balkans, with its mixture of Byzantine, Roman, Muslim, and other ideas yet farther afield. Among other gifts which pleased us greatly, we must find space to mention Mrs. Ascherson’s beautiful collar, once the gift of Liliuokalani, last Queen of the Hawaiian Islands, made of the orange and golden wing feathers of Drepanis pacifica and Acrulocerus nobilis, Lady Craigie’s finely embroidered Roumanian blouses, and collections illustrating European arts and crafts from Miss Durham, Miss Nevell, Miss Allchin, Mrs. Hodgson, and Miss Blackwood.

In the Top Gallery 21 screens have been added to the archaeological series, making 54 in all out of a possible 80. Of these, 45 are so far devoted to Stone-Age Industries, and 9 to Stone-Age Techniques. These with the attendant exhibitions have completed our display of the ancient Stone Age in Europe, Asia, and Africa to the beginning of the use of metal, and have made a good start on the industries of peoples in a Stone Age when discovered by Europeans. Especially interesting are the Bushman exhibition with Mr. Dunn’s fine collection from Palaeolithic to modern times, the Tasmanian with the Westlake collection and Bock’s paintings and Woolley’s photographs from life, the Eskimo section, in which Miss Blackwood had the advantage of a good collection from early explorers of the North-West Passage, and the Mexican, for which we were able to buy a good archaeological series from the excavator. In the Technical section Sir Francis Knowles has added his study of the Palaeolithic and Neolithic axe and adze, and Miss Blackwood has shown full details of the making of stone adzes and club-heads from her work in central New Guinea. It remains to complete the Bronze Age in this gallery, and to show what may be called the grammar of the Iron Age in the Lower Gallery beside modern examples of primitive iron-working. The exhibition so far has shown that our principal needs are for specimens archaeologically attested in the European Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic, and in the general archaeology of China, India, and Western Asia, regions not well represented except for Professor Garrod’s splendid series from the Mt. Carmel Caves in Palestine.

Apart from extensive restoration of hand-and wheel-made pottery and wormed or decayed woodwork, Mr. Walters has found time to treat many objects of lead, especially those which had become ‘sugared’ by association with oak. Fire-pistons from the Malayan region, bullets from old percussion rifles, and tuning-weights in musical boxes were cleaned with acetic acid, then washed with ammonia, and finally shellacked. This work has restored several valuable musical boxes completely, so that they play as well as when they were made. In adjusting some others which were out of order when they arrived, he has enlisted the help of the Engineering Department, which has made small new parts to take the place of those worn out. We are thus gradually acquiring a representative collection to illustrate the history of automatic music. Mr. Atkinson has continued his work on the cure of bronze disease in ancient specimens.

The Curator and Demonstrator continued to teach students reading for the Honour School of Geography, and to give much informal information to research students from many parts of the country. The Curator gave his usual course on the ‘Origins of Civilization’ and on ‘Race, Culture, and Environment’, continued to serve as Secretary to Heads of the Science Departments, and gave lectures in Hilary and Trinity Terms for Professor Beazley’s course on ‘Archaeology and History’ in the Ashmolean Museum. Miss Blackwood lectured twice weekly throughout the year, giving her usual Ethnological Survey to students of the Honour School of Geography, paying extra attention this year to Africa, which was their special area, and to Europe, and read a paper to the Oxford Social Studies Association on ‘What is Anthropology, and why do we study it?’ In connexion with this work, and with the Curator’s lectures, she made over 350 lantern-slides for our rapidly growing collection, and cleaned and rebound more than 300 others in a collection which we recently acquired. She also found time to make a large number of the photographs needed for the archaeological screens, to serve on the Council and on the Executive Committee of the Royal Anthropological Institute, and to continue co-operation with the Ashmolean Museum in work on archaeological sites. Mr. Turner has continued his valuable work identifying and cataloguing North American Indian specimens, and has lectured on ‘The Indian Background of Brazil’ to the Anglo-Brazilian Society in London and on Mexico to the Ashmolean Natural History Society.

Mr. Ford has made good progress with the cataloguing of the Balfour and Buxton Libraries at Crick Road. We hope now that before very long we may be able to move these libraries to the adjacent eastward wing of the Geology Department when it is vacated, and to amalgamate the Tylor and other libraries now housed in the Iron Shed. This will save us many extra hours of work during each year, and the room thus spared in the Shed will free rooms in Museum House for collections belonging to the subject of Physical Anthropology should the need arise.

About 9,300 people have visited the collections throughout the past year.



virtual collections logo

Supported by the John Fell OUP Research Fund


(c) 2012 Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford