16. Report of the Curator of the Pitt Rivers Museum (Department of Ethnology) for the year ending 31 July 1948

Curator: T.K. Penniman, M.A., Trinity College.
University Demonstrators and Lecturers in Ethnology: B.M. Blackwood, B.Sc., M.A., Somerville College; J.S.P.Bradford, M.A., Christ Church

This has been a year of considerable progress, as well as of the dislocation which is the usual accompaniment of advance at some of its stages. The increasing number of students and demands by research workers have raised problems which are within measurable distance of solution. The University Surveyor has drawn plans for refitting the eastward wing of the old Geology Department adjoining the Curator’s room to serve as a library and reading-rooms, photographic studio, and offices for Demonstrators and the Librarian, and grants have been made to pay for the alterations and for photographic equipment. This will enable us shortly to collect our libraries out of three scattered buildings, and will allow students to read under the general supervision of the Librarian, as well as to consult maps, periodicals, and photographs which are now unavailable with-out special arrangements and much hindrance to the staff. One of our great problems when we had nowhere for students to read was what to do about large and costly books, numbers of rare periodicals, and works which we needed constantly to have by us for cataloguing or answering research workers, though it seemed wrong not to allow students to take them away. This will no longer worry us. The rearrangement will also make it possible for us to devote a small room to the rapidly growing catalogue of the Museum and to the ever-increasing collection of lantern-slides, and make both more rapidly available for use, a matter of some importance in dealing with many inquiries which mingle with routine teaching. The reception room for isolating and treating diseased or newly arrived specimens before distribution, in which one of our Demonstrators and the Librarian have lived, can revert to its former use, and also serve as additional workshop space. This will allow work which requires scrupulously clean surroundings to be kept separate from work which is necessarily dirty, and it will be much pleasanter and healthier for us to keep the two atmospheres apart. One of our greatest advantages will be the photographic studio with modern equipment, which will supply us with lantern-slides and photographs at a fraction of the present cost, and permit us to perform services for research students and Museums which we cannot now manage. Mr. R.C. Gurden will have charge of the Library facilities, Mr. K.H.H. Walters will manage the photographic studio and library of negatives, so that we shall be able to publish more regularly and at far smaller cost than now. The additional workshop space and equipment will greatly lessen the amount of work that has to be sent out, and will ensure that we make what we need, rather than buy what we must endure.

A valuable feature of the new library will be the increased availability of the collection of over 100,000 air-photographs under Mr. J.S.P. Bradford’s care. This has been very much consulted by many members of the University and by scholars from elsewhere who are interested in environmental studies, and has been used by Mr. Bradford in regular courses of lectures. Considerable headway has been made in cataloguing it under his supervision, and the work can go on regularly under future conditions, when there will be enough space both for efficient working, and for easier consultation by members of the University and others. The Museum has acquired an air camera from surplus Government stock, which will be useful for archaeological reconnaissance in this region and teaching, and also stereoscopes for work with the photographs. Major P.D. William-Hunt has again enriched the collection with another series of air-photographs of ancient city sites in South-east Asia, discovered by himself, and about to be published.

Great interest in our library of air-photographs was shown this summer by the Conference on Classical Studies at Oxford. To mark the occasion, a special exhibition of air-photographs of Roman, Greek and Etruscan sites was contributed by the Museum from its collection, to others arranged by the Department of Antiquities in the Ashmolean Museum. Our contribution showed some very striking views of modern towns in Europe and North Africa, where the Roman town-plan itself, and the system of fields round each, partitioned by the Roman method of centuriation, were readily traceable. Other photographs of ours revealed many new groups of tumuli in famous Etruscan cemeteries, and new details of the ancient street-plan in the Greek city of Paestum in South Italy. The Museum also chartered a special aircraft, a De Havilland Rapide eight-seater, to show some of the leading British and foreign field-archaeologists at the Conference the appearance of ‘Celtic’ fields, Roman roads, Bronze Age tumuli, Iron Age hill-forts,&c., at first hand from the air. The flight lasted for two hours and extended beyond Avebury and over large areas of the Berkshire Downs and North Wiltshire. The party included Professor H. Seyrig, Director of the Institut Français d’Archéologie, Beyrouth; Professor A. Boëthius, Professor of Classical Archaeology at Göteborg; Professor Homer Thompson of Princeton and Director of the Agora excavations in Athens; Professor Daux of the Sorbonne; Professor R.E.M. Wheeler, Professor of the History of the Roman Provinces, University of London; Professor C.F.C. Hawkes, Professor of European Archaeology in the University of Oxford; and Mr. I.A. Richmond, Lecturer in Romano-British Archaeology, King’s College, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Mr. Bradford arranged the course to be flown, and demonstrated and explained from the air the numerous prehistoric and Roman sites thus examined.. This is probably the first occasion when a practical class and demonstration in archaeology for a group of expert specialists has been undertaken in this manner. Before the flight began, the methods and technique of archaeological discovery from the air were explained, so that each member of the party could put them into practice for himself. It was agreed that the experience had been most valuable.

Whilst the long-awaited move into the adjacent building allotted to us by long-standing agreement will give immediate relief in many ways, problems have arisen over other areas. During the year Mr. H.F. Walters superintended the transference of the material stored in seven rooms of Museum House for the past thirty years to the basement of the Examination Schools, where it can be consulted by scholars sufficiently determined. In fact, no sooner had it been transferred than a distinguished French archaeologist gave notice that she would examine it. Museum House, the home of Sir Edward Tylor when he came to Oxford to lecture on the subjects of this Museum in 1883 in accordance with the terms of the deed of gift by General Pitt Rivers, is now in the territory allotted for the expansion of Inorganic Chemistry, but will temporarily house the Institute of Social Anthropology. Thus its final use before destruction will be that of its early days over sixty years ago; Tylor’s successors will be teaching his own subject in his house, with many of his own books, which were divided between the Institute and the Museum, now returned to the room where he first used them in Oxford. The other move is from the four rooms at 9 Crick Road, which we have occupied by the kindness of Professor Osborn since 1939, when he gave us room for the Balfour Library and collections and Mr. F.C. Whiting, who was to look after them. This house must return to its original use for the Department of Botany when we are established in the eastward wing of the old Geology Department, and this will require us to find room here for the collections, and another home for Mr. Whiting. Fortunately, the books will join those from the Iron House in the new library, and the room thus vacated can take specimens used for teaching, and free room in the main Museum for the beautiful collection of musical instruments and other objects made by the late Professor Balfour. We and our friends should put on record our thanks to Professor Osborn for his generosity in sparing us room that he needed himself over so long a period.

Work continues in restoring the Balfour collection of musical instruments to playing condition where this is desirable or possible. This year Mr. Alec Hodsdon of Lavenham in Suffolk has restored an 1803 piano by Broadwood, a beautifully constructed instrument with a very interesting damper-action, and with the original felt on its hammers intact, so that we can hear its tone as the maker heard it. Our series of stringed instruments still lacks a clavichord and a single-action harp. Among other work of restoration special mention should be made of continued work by Mr. Bradford and Mr. Walters on bronze disease. About thirty ancient objects from various parts of the world had been restored to health. In addition, Mr. Walters has superintended the restoration and cleaning of much valuable material that had suffered from rain or other exposure before we received it, or during periods when the roofs were out of repair, especially during the war. We are still awaiting a licence to restore the main roof, and in the meantime, a whole range of exhibitions is covered with American cloth. The amount of pottery broken in the earth or in transit during the past fifty years to record, or we to list from the catalogue cards on which it is noted.

In the course of routine Museum work Miss Blackwood has made 758 lantern-slides to add to the collection, using a room in the Department of Entomology kindly lent by Professor Hale Carpenter. Special sets were made to illustrate Mr. Bradford’s new courses on Anthropology, the first time this course has been given. Further slides were made for Dr. Cohn’s lectures on Chinese Painting and added to our good and growing collection of slides on Chinese subjects. For photography of objects we had to rely as usual on the Ashmolean Museum, sending our specimens out, and waiting our turn. We are grateful to the Ashmolean for helping us while we are waiting for our own studio and apparatus. The Regional Index has grown to 170 cardboard drawers, and is increasing rapidly, so that we are now arranging for a supply of wooden cabinets with interchangeable drawers. During the year Miss Blackwood typed and distributed over 4,000 cards, and distributed another 4,000 typed by the Curator. In the library Mr. Gurden has finished the labelling and cataloguing of the Balfour, Marett, Tylor, Beasley and Wild books, dealt with new accessions and arranged periodicals in readiness for incorporation in the new library, while looking after the needs of our own students, pupils from the School of Geography, and research workers needing books from the various places in which they are now kept. He has taken charge of all of the work of stencilling and duplicating bibliographies, summaries of lectures, and of the unusually heavy interdepartmental work in Anthropology which has gone on during the year, as well as the secretarial work and management of the accounts and wages.

Much work has gone on during the year in improving exhibitions and in restoring overcrowded cases to the original idea of General Pitt Rivers, treating the class of object as the genus, and the region as the species. Mr. Bradford began a long-term scheme of improvement of the Lower Gallery in September 1947, beginning with personal ornaments. Up to the present, thirteen desk-cases and two sets of rail-cases, placed in position by the staff, have been arranged, and the cabinets under them to correspond. The material of each kind has been regrouped by continents and regions within them, and several thousand specimens have been regrouped and many relabelled, repaired, and freed from superfluous boxes. Interesting specimens that had long been in storage were incorporated with the exhibited collection; the cases were lined with off-white coupon-free canvas, and about 800 specimens are now attractively exhibited, with reserve material of the same kind stored under them, so that it can be immediately available. The work is continuing round the entire gallery. Miss Blackwood selected material for exhibitions of decorated gourds from Mexico given by Mrs. Elsie McDougall and of Akamba wood-carving given by Mrs. A.E.F. Selfe and placed them on show for limited periods, as both exhibitions were of a sort that cannot stand prolonged exposure to light and heat. She also rearranged and documented the case showing types of pottery figurines from Central and South America. The largest amount of renovation has been undertaken by the technical staff. Mr. Walters has supervised the removal of specimens from over 900 square feet of screens, and he and Mr. Whiting have repapered them and sprayed them with a pleasant cream-coloured distemper. Some of the material has gone to storage, and the rest arranged on the screens. The maps, water-colours, and drawings have been re-done by Mr. Allen of the staff, and the new labels have been stencilled by Mr. K.H. Walters. Permanency for the new work is assured by the frames made by Mr. Walters and his son, which prevent curling and drying, and keep it clean. In addition to screens, Mr. Walters has supervised the painting, lining, and arrangement of the cases dealing with tobacco and betel, and with loop-coil and fret ornamentation, and has lined and painted the cases holding amulets, whose arrangement is proceeding. Sir Francis Knowles has continued his valuable work in selecting and arranging material for the Stone Age cases, and has completely arranged and classified the storage of the Upper Palaeolithic material under the exhibition cases.

    In spite of difficulties, work on exchange continues. Mr. Bradford selected a representative series of British, French, and Palestinian stone implements to show some of the main types from Lower Palaeolithic to Neolithic, and exchanged them with the National Museum of Southern Rhodesia for a type-series of their Stone Age implements, and chose as similar series for a future exchange with Mexico. Our collection made for exchange with the Denver Art Museum in Colorado has reached America, and we await the American Indian collection in return. We have asked the Musée de L’Homme in Paris to delay sending their Upper Palaeolithic collection until a whole floor can be sent, as we want to examine the whole lot, rather than a selection of types.
In the meanwhile, however, among donations, Mr. H.V.V. Noone has greatly enriched our collection by a gift of French Upper Palaeolithic material collected by himself, and to this Professor Barnes has generously contributed. Some of the specimens have replaced those on show, and a special collection of burins arranged by Mr. Noone’s classification has been displayed in the Top Gallery. Other European collections include Miss Margaret Irvine’s considerable gift of beautifully embroidered clothing of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, which, unfortunately, we cannot make available until Miss Start is able to come and catalogue it, and Mr. W.F. Pratley’s gift of an Oxfordshire breast-plough and early nineteenth century carpenter’s tools, as well as a Cotswold shepherd’s hay rope of horse hair, very similar to one from Iceland given this year by Mr. Hilary Morris.

Among accessions from Asia a few of outstanding interest may be mentioned. When he left Assam, Mr. J.P. Mills crowned the generosity of many years by sending an enormous crate of specimens collected on the borders of Assam and Tibet, an area from which we had little, and are not likely to get more. We have only begun to enter the collection, and its description must await the next report. Needless to say, they are documented with the rare perfection of which Mills is a master. From Assam also Mr. C.R. Stonor sent an Abor potter’s outfit, and a model Garo blacksmith’s bellow. Sir Walter Hose sent pipe-bowls from the Shan States, Mr. A.S. Haynes added shadow-play puppets, weapons, and lead and tin figures used to make tin grow, to his Malayan collection, and Mr. B.S. Johnson sent a double-clarinet, a beautiful specimen, which was collected from a shepherd in Bethlehem.

The largest African donations were from Mrs. A.E.F. Selfe, who sent a considerable number of delightful Akamba wood-carvings of animals and people, all modern, and from Professor Evans-Pritchard, who handed over a collections we had kept for him from the Nuer, Zande, and Jur people, which we promptly began using to teach pupils the material culture of the prescribed area, which included these peoples. Some beautiful Ashanti cloths from the late Captain Wild, a fine Nigerian end-flute from Mr. F. de F. Daniel, and Barotse wood-carving, including a model of the canoe in which the Paramount Chief had visited the Duke of Connaught, from Admiral Start, are also among the African accessions.

Mr. W.G. Wallace, son of the great A.R. Wallace, sent us a fine collection of American stone implements collected by his father, and Miss Start and Mr. Eric Thompson, whose visit we greatly enjoyed, further enriched our Mexican and Central American collections. Professor J.A. Douglas added Peruvian horse-furniture, and a Texan saddle which he took from a famous Texan outlaw, and afterwards used on his Andean journeys. Mrs. Elsie McDougall continued with her usual generosity to add to the already rich collection of Mexican and Central American textiles she had already given. Among her photographs and papers special mention should be made of the twenty leaves reproducing, in black and white and in colours, the Aubin Tonalamatl, a book of reference for the guidance of Aztec priests (see E. Seler, The Tonalamatl of the Aubin Collection, Commentary, Trans. by A. H. Keane, London 1901).

Among purchases the principles were of Zapotec figures from Sir Norman King, K.C.M.G., collected by himself when Consul-General in Mexico, sections of Indian elephant ivory cut by Mr. J.R. Lomax under the Curator’s direction from a specimen kindly sent by Dr. F.C., Fraser of the British Museum of Natural History to compare with the African elephant and Mammoth sections already shown in the Museum, and an Aeolina, a free-reed instrument made by C. Wheatstone in 1829, and figured in the Harmonicon of 1829, on pages 37 and 38. This last was bought from Mr. James Keggie.

Teaching, as usual, occupied much of our time. The Curator gave his usual course once weekly on The Origins of Civilization; Miss Blackwood lectured twice weekly in Michaelmas and Hilary Terms on Lands and Peoples, dealing with Hunters and Herders in the first Term, and with Cultivators in the second. In the Trinity Term she lectured once weekly on the The Higher Civilizations of Pre-Conquest America, and once weekly on the Material Culture of East Africa, the special area chosen by the Board of Faculty for intensive study. Mr. Bradford lectured once weekly in Michaelmas Term on Anthropology and History, once weekly in Hilary Term on The Growth of Urban Civilization, and once weekly in Trinity Term on Nomas Empires of Asia. Mr. Bradford also assisted Miss Blackwood in Practical work in Ethnology for Diploma students throughout the year, and the Curator in practical work in Archaeology and Technology. In both courses he successfully introduced drawing, which is much enjoyed, and shows good results in the Diploma Examination. Sir Francis Knowles continued to give instruction in drawing stone implements. For the first time, students for the Preliminary Examination in the Honour School of Geography attended Miss Blackwood’s lectures on Lands and Peoples, and were given special tuition by Mr. Bradford. The Curator was one of the Examiners at the first examination in this new Preliminary, and both the Curator and Miss Blackwood examined for the Diploma of Anthropology

Among general work in furthering our subject, the Curator edited the section on Material Culture (pages 187-337 and 371-81) in Notes and Queries on Anthropology for the Royal Anthropological Institute, to which Miss Blackwood contributed the section on Photography, Miss Helen Roberts the section on Recording Music, and Mr. James Hornell the part dealing with Boats and Navigation. The Curator continued to serve on the Ancient Mining and Metallurgy Committee of the R.A.I., and preliminary Reports have been published in Man for January and February 1948. He also served as Secretary to the Committee of Heads of the Science Departments. Miss Blackwood attended the International Congress of Americanists in Paris as a Delegate from the Museum, and went on the Basel to study the rich Melanesian and Indonesian collections in the Museum für Völerkune on our behalf, and renew contact with colleagues after the war years. She served on the Councils of the Royal Anthropological Institute and Folk-Lore Society, represented the Museum on the Council for British Archaeology, and the Board for the Faculty of Anthropology and Geography on the Council for the Promotion of Field Studies. She was also elected to represent the University at Brussels as a Delegate to the International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences in August 1948. Mr. Bradford published ‘A Technique for the Study of Centuriation’ in Antiquity for December 1947, and prepared an article on `Air Photography and Study of Man’ for L'Anthropologie at the invitation of the Editor, Professor Vaufrey. He also lectured to the Scientific Society at Eton College. The Curator, Miss Blackwood, and Mr. Bradford were elected Fellows of the Society of Antiquaries in 1948. Sir Francis Knowles continued research on the differences between English and French gun-flints and changes in type during the history of the English gun-flint, and did further work on the development of stone-working techniques. Mr. G.E.S. Turner, besides helping us with the documenting of American specimens, has published reviews of Mera, Pueblo Indian Embroidery (Man, 1947, 148) and Martin, Quimby, and Collier, Indians before Columbus (ibid., 1948, 61), and lectured to the Ashmolean Natural History Society on the Indians of Brazil. He is collaborating with Mr. Arthur Woodward of the Los Angeles County Museum in a search for data on British hardware, pottery, glassware, clay pipes, buttons, beads, military accoutrements, gun-flints, &c., exported to North America in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries. Material of this kind is found in many American Indian sites, and if its period and origin can be determined, throws valuable light on the date of associated Indian remains and the trading relations of given tribes.. Mr. Turner would be grateful if anyone having knowledge of special collections, illustrated catalogues, published studios, or early trade directories likely to assist in compiling a chronology of such manufactures would communicate with him at the Museum.

The second of the Museum’s Occasional Papers on Technology, entitled The McDougal Collection of Indian Textiles from Guatemala and Mexico, by Miss Laura Start, is now going through the press and will be ready during the year. It will contain about 120 pages of text, 16 half-tone plates, one coloured plate, and 42 line block illustrations. It is so written and illustrated that the processes can be repeated by other textiles workers. The price will be fifteen shillings. The first paper in the series was The Manufacture of a Flint Arrow-head by Quartzite Hammerstone by Sir Francis Knowles, which sells at five shillings. Other papers are in preparation, and when we get settled in our new quarters, can be less occasional.

Apart from many research inquirers, 8,375 people visited the Museum during the year, including parties from schools.


virtual collections logo

Supported by the John Fell OUP Research Fund


(c) 2012 Pitt Rivers Museum, University of Oxford