Oxford: Pitt Stop

2 minute read
Liam Fitzpatrick

If Joseph Conrad and the set designers of Raiders of the Lost Ark ever curated a museum, the result might be something like Oxford’s Pitt Rivers, tel: (44-1865) 270927. Founded in 1884 by Lieut. General Pitt Rivers—Britain’s first Inspector of Ancient Monuments—the Pitt Rivers Museum houses tens of thousands of anthropological artifacts in an atmosphere redolent with Victorian eccentricity. Wildly cluttered display cases and fading labels, handwritten in copperplate script, speak of the period’s voraciously eclectic mania for collecting. In one spot there’s a Tahitian mourner’s costume, acquired during Captain Cook’s second voyage of 1773; in another there are displays of masks, like the one from Papua New Guinea, pictured left.

Search further and you’ll find ceremonial brasses from Benin, Hawaiian feather cloaks and—most notoriously—a group of shrunken heads from the Americas (alongside trepanned skulls, and teeth that had been ritually filed to sharp points). There are tattooing and body-piercing displays, while the more squeamish can find diversion in mountains of magic charms, jewelry and ethnic sculpture. Those seeking a break from the saccharine prettiness of Oxford’s colleges—or the steep prices of its centuries-old pubs—will find it here. Especially on a rainy day, and with a healthy sense of wonder.

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