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​ the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford

The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford is a real treat for anyone interested in all sorts of wearable stuff. The museum was founded in 1884 after general Pitt Rivers donated his collection of objects to the University of Oxford. While there were 26.000 objects in the nineteenth century, over half a million objects are preserved there now. The museum is especially famous for its amulet collections, some 6.000 amulets are kept there. Some of which have been made available for research online as well. We visited the museum a couple of times and this is a very modest review of its splendors.

To give you an impression, this will link you to a virtual tour of the museum. If you ever want to see the small amulets from their collection and are not in the neighbourhood, please visit the Small Blessings Collection from the Adrien de Mortillet online. The objects have been photographed very nicely and some background information is made available there as well. Anyway, that is online; the museum itself is just fantastic! So many objects, and all of them on display per subject, not according to their geographical or cultural areas. This is one of the special features of the museum: all is displayed typologically. So, for instance, tools used for making fire in all sorts of cultures are displayed together. In this way, the object variety becomes clear. It is a celebration of human diversity, this museum. When visiting it, you will first walk through the museum of natural history (with gorgeous architecture and displays by the way) to reach the Pitt Rivers in the back of the building. Here, three floors are completely filled with objects and any visitor will feel like traveling the world in a single visit.

We went to the Pitt Rivers on a few occasions when visiting Oxford these past years. For those studying wearable heritage, the museum houses an interesting reference collection to almost any kind of object. Hair combs from all around the world for example, or instruments used in other body ornamentation such as tattoos. Also jewelry is found plentiful and made from lots of different materials. We went specifically to see certain objects used in body ornamentation and kohl containers. Since we will be working on publishing the wearable heritage kohl container collection in the near future, a good reference study was very welcome. Above you will find some of the containers we photographed and described from the collection. Leather pouches for storing kohl from the Sahara are there, colored blue, greens and red; some of them decorated with intricate beadwork. If you would like to see certain objects and information online, you may do so here. The “body ornament collection” is there too. The collection shows a large variety of objects, not only from North Africa, but also from India and other parts of Africa. Apart from the containers, objects used in the production of soot and other kohl products can be found in the collection, as well as applicators or needles. We have been refining our typology for kohl containers while we were there.

Beadwork is another research topic in the wearable heritage project (you can visit our website: for more information). So we also took an interest in the museum cases presenting beadwork from around the world. Colorful strung and woven beads, that once served as costume or body adornment, are presented in the collection. Apart from beadwork studying opportunities, the hair ornaments in the collection present an interesting research subject as well. In the images above, an African wig and hair combs can be seen to show you the diversity of the collection. For more information on our research of ancient (and more modern, but traditional) hairstyles, click here) Last but not least, a special feature in the Pitt Rivers: the old hand written labels, added to the items when they were first collected. This has nothing to do with wearable heritage of course, but it certainly adds to the flavor of the museum... These small labels, often made from thick white paper with a thin metal frame, are now part of the collection and they are conserved with similar enthusiasm as the objects themselves. It will give the visitor information on the way in which the collection was put together. You will find them in all our photographs presented here, but for more information please check out this site.

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