Over half a million objects now constitute the Pitt Rivers collection of archaeological artefacts, from what started off as a gift to Oxford University of eighteen thousand from General Pitt Rivers in 1884. Unlike other ethnographic museums, the collection is laid out in what appears to be a rather haphazard fashion with no regard given in the displays to provenance and age; instead, the General’s own approach to anthropology is employed. Items are grouped according to function, highlighting regional variations in design and technology. Artefacts are juxtaposed intriguingly, to excite thought and comment; an eighteenth century Chinese pipe for smoking opium is left to set up a visual dialogue with a bong manufactured out of a Coca Cola bottle for smoking marijuana, cheekily donated by recent students. A pickled slug impaled on a thorn, donated in the 1930s, is an example of an old English folk medicine cure for warts which lies next to other medical artefacts and witchcraft.
A refreshing antidote to dry modern curatorial practices, it is a compendium of different societies’ answers to several millennia of problems.
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