Pitt Rivers Museum

Welcome to the Pitt Rivers Museum!

The Pitt Rivers Museum was founded in 1884, formed from a collection gifted by General Pitt-Rivers (an archaeologist and evolutionary anthropologist). General Pitt-Rivers gifted his collection to the University on the conditions that the University built a Museum to keep the collection in, hired a lecturer to teach the history of the items and displayed them similarly to the way the General displayed his items. The Museum first opened to the public three years later, in 1887. The unusual arrangement of items in the Pitt Rivers Museum is one of its most popular features. Museums examining objects from human history typically organise items according to geographical or cultural areas. However, in the Pitt Rivers Museum the more than 500,000 items are arranged typologically (according to type of item). This demonstrates the different ways people have solved a particular problem throughout time, and around the world. You can visit the Museum website here: https://www.prm.ox.ac.uk/.

A virtual visit

Use the resources below to tour around the Museum – first take a look at some of the Museum highlights. Then use the 3D tour to look around the Museum and see if you can spot some of the highlights. Particularly, look out for the Many Shot’s robe and the Malangan, from Papua New Guinea.

Masks at the Pitt Rivers Museum

The Pitt Rivers Museum has a large range of masks from different cultures and eras, which had a range of purposes. Read about the masks of the Pitt Rivers Museum here.

An important skill for researchers to develop is observation. Closely recording details about an item helps you to focus on the item, and consider questions such as:

  • What is it?
  • What is it made of?
  • Where does it come from?
  • Who would have used it?
  • Who would have made it?
  • When was it used?

Select one of the masks discussed in the document above (or this mask shown in the Museum highlights) and draw a detailed sketch. Your page should include annotations about the artefact – see this guide for more details.

Example sketchbook pages for masks are shown here: sketchbook 1, sketchbook 2, sketchbook 3. For each example, you can also click through to see photos of the mask that was drawn.

Related videos

Oxford Sparks create short (2-3 minute) animations which talk about science research questions. The Pitt Rivers Museum celebrates human existence. The videos below are some examples of science projects designed to help humans in different ways (although this is the purpose of almost all science!). Each video is provided as a link, with the science subjects most relevant to it in brackets.

The Royal Society is the independent scientific academy of the UK. They offer research grants to many UK scientists, and promote excellence in science research and learning. They host an annual exhibition called ‘Summer Science’, and this year this exhibition was hosted digitally. You may be interested in looking at their programme here.

The Pitt Rivers Museum contains items from all over the world. A selection of The Royal Society’s Summer School videos, related to scientific travel, are shown below. Find out about modern scientific adventures in Antarctica – how can we use ancient ice to find out about the environment long ago? Then compare this to ancient journeys made by scientists. 

Stay in touch with the Pitt Rivers Museum!