Thursday, 31 August 2017

Unearthing the new archaeology displays

A new display of stone artefacts
© Pitt Rivers Museum
During the VERVE: Need Make Use project, the team have refreshed displays and created entirely new exhibits.  The previously empty desktop cases on the Upper Gallery are now being filled with new displays of archaeology. We hope the public will find their way up to the top floor to uncover these artefacts.

Here are a few highlights from the displays:

Female ceramic figure 1921.54.1
© Pitt Rivers Museum

In Case 4: Ceramics is a female figure (1921.54.1) from Cyprus dated to the Bronze Age (1800-1600 BC). It was donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum by George Davis Hornblower in 1921.

This terracotta female figure has been hand formed and is hollow. The details have primarily been painted on with dark brown pigment, with some impressed and incised into the clay. The figure has a striking pose, which is believed to symbolise female fertility. According to Professor Vassos Karageorghis this figure is a rare example of the Astarte-type figure (Karageorghis, 2004). Astarte is an ancient Middle Eastern goddess. This figure shows a transition point in the development of such figures from a plank shape to more three dimensional shapes. The figure’s actual provenance is unknown as it was purchased at a sale in Egypt in 1908.

Bronze mirror 1887.1.414 © Pitt Rivers Museum

This broken bronze disc mirror (1887.1.414) is in Case 7: Metals. The mirror is from Ancient Greece and is dated to the 4th century BC. The label on the mirror in Greek is literally translated as ‘Athens vi / The skull of a woman from / a tomb at Vari in Attica, / excavated in the / year 1866. There are also / more bones and a bronze / mirror 250-500 / BC.’  The mirror was transferred to the Pitt Rivers Museum from George Rolleston at the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Rolleston purchased the mirror from Athanasios Rhousopoulos in 1871. The mirror would have had a shiny, reflective surface but, over time, the metal has corroded. 

Rush matting fragment 1937.44.13 © Pitt Rivers Museum

In Case 8: Organic Materials are two fragments of rush matting from Bee Cave Canyon, Brewster County, Texas, USA. Bee Cave Canyon is a large rock shelter that was excavated between 1928 and 1929 by the Museum of the American Indian in conjunction with the University of Cambridge. The site has evidence of walled rooms, rock paintings, worked stone and also yielded a considerable amount of perishable materials, revealing a lot about the prehistoric people that lived there.

The fragments on display are a piece of twill plaited basketry or matting (1937.44.13) and a corner piece of chequer plaited matting (1937.44.17). They were donated by Lewis Colville Gray Clarke, who was director of the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge from 1937. Artefacts from the site are housed in the National Museum of the American Indian, which is now part of the Smithsonian Institution, as well as in Cambridge's Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, also accessioned there in 1937.

This is just a sample of the objects on display with interesting stories to tell, so come to the Museum to find some more...

Madeleine Ding and Sian Mundell
VERVE Curatorial Assistants


Karageorghis, V. (2004). 'Kypriaka XV' in Report of the Department of Antiquities, Cyprus. Nicosia: Dept. of Antiquities, pp. 169-74

Friday, 7 July 2017

Bone carving, African dance, cupcakes...and ancient poo! A look ahead to Pitt Fest Remixed, 29 July 2017 (10.30-16.00)

The team is busy finalising preparations for the Need / Make / Use project's last ever Pitt Fest event! Our annual Pitt Fest day-festival has been a real highlight of the project and we are closing the event series with a bang! We'll have an array of interactive demonstrations, hands-on activities and behind-the-scenes opportunities and there will be things to do for visitors of all ages. We'll be inviting new Pitt Fest collaborators into the Museum and welcoming back some familiar faces. The theme this year is simply 'creativity', but expect to see lots to do with archaeology as we explore the newly installed archaeology cases on the top floor. After last year's downpour, we've decided to host most of the event inside the galleries this time but you will be able to spot a few tents on the lawn. We are looking forward to...

Interactive demonstrations

James Dilley, from Ancient Crafts UK, will demonstrate skills key to survival in prehistoric Europe. Last year, we particularly enjoyed trying on his wolf skin headdress! Visit James' website to learn a bit more about his experimental archaeology. 

James Dilley at 2016's Pitt Fest, adorned in his replica of a ancient European chief's headdress. 
Catch James in the galleries and explore the replica artefacts he'll bring along.

Taking inspiration from the many objects carved out of bone on display in Pitt Rivers galleries, artist Jason Turpin Thomson will come along to demonstrate his intricate carving technique. His miniature carved sculptures are reminiscent of the hundreds of Japanese netsuke on display on the second floor. Find him in the gallery creating exquisitely detailed figures from animal bone. Check out Jason's Instagram for a sneak preview of his work. 

A tiny, portable netsuke-esque bone carving by Jason Turpin Thomson. He'll be on the top floor carving live! 

Find Oxford Archaeology underneath the totem pole where you'll be able to explore stars of their flint collection. After speaking to their expects, head up to the top floor to see if you can spot similar items on display in the new archaeology cases. 

Oxford Archaeology at 2016's Hopes & Fears evening event.

Talks, tours and going behind the scenes

Tours and talks were so popular at last year's Pitt Fest that we've decided to run even more this year. Pop-in to the library (a space most visitors don't get to see!) and settle down for short talks from Pitt Rivers Museum Staff and special guests. Talks this year include 'Percy Manning at the Pitt Rivers', by folklore expert, Mike Heaney, and an introduction to the University of Oxford's first ever LGBTQ+ cross-collection project, Out in Oxford, with Dr Clara Barker (University of Oxford).

Dr Clara Barker (back right) and the Out in Oxford team. 

Visitors can also go behind-the-scenes with staff from the Photographs and Manuscripts department and the Conservation team. In pre-bookable 45 minute tours, you'll be able to try for yourself techniques used by Pitt Rivers conservators to protect the thousands of objects that we look after, and you'll be able to take a close look at the albums of Wilfred Thesiger and visit the climate controlled store rooms. Tickets for these tours will be available in advance via our website

Visitors in the research space examining objects at a behind-the-scenes tour.


Music has been central to our Pitt Fest events and will remain so this year. Master Kora player, Fily Cissokho, will be coming back and we'll also welcome musicians from Confluence Collective. The wonderful African Dance Oxford will be performing and they'll also run a workshop that you'll be able to book on to in advance via our website. Finally, community singing group, Ark T Singers, will sing songs from around the world in response to the Pitt Rivers Museum collections - event goers are encouraged to pull up a chair, fill their lungs and join in! 

Grace, from African Dance Oxford performing in the galleries and Fily Cissokho playing the Kora at 2016's Pitt Fest. 


There'll also be lot's of hands-on activities going on throughout the Museum. You'll be able to have a go at directing historic poo to discover what people ate in the past (yuk!) and learn about flint knapping using (and we aren't joking,) a butter knife and a bar of soap! Have a go at making a bracelet to mirror the one made out of snakes vertebra on display in the Court, try lino printing, and model a mystical figure out of clay. 

We'll also be joined but other fantastic guests, including Cogges Manor Farm and paper cutter Vanessa Stone. As we'll mostly be inside the Museum this year, we won't be having a global food fair but there'll be delicious cupcakes from our old friends, Happy Cakes

Entry to Pitt Fest is a free but donations are very welcome. Join the Facebook event for updates on the programme.

Jozie Kettle
VERVE Programming & Communications Officer

Friday, 30 June 2017

Identity Without Borders

Ahead of Refugee Week in June 2017 the Pitt Rivers Museum and the Joint Museums Outreach Team undertook numerous community and public engagement events connecting with people from refugee communities. It is a series of activities geared at transforming the museum into a platform for the voices of people who are refugees, many of whom are locally based. The run of events culminated in a free public evening event called Identity Without Borders. 

Here is a taste of some of the events and activities:

Family Day craft activity
Ahead of the numerous community events taking place at the Pitt Rivers Museum training was arranged for Pitt Rivers staff around supporting refugee and asylum seekers and understanding their experiences. It was led by our partners Asylum Welcome, one of the charities and organisations that support refugees in Oxford. The training offered a brilliant opportunity to learn a bit more about the experiences of refugees within our communities and also to think about how the museums are placed to support local refugee and asylum seeking communities to engage in new ways with the collections.

The Museum and Joint Museums Outreach team ran three family days for Oxfordshire's Syrian community and people who access Refugee Resource services. The families used the museum spaces and spent time in the galleries.

BK.LUWO crocheting
The international women's group, BK.LUWO, 'took over' the balcony, working on their current craft projects and chatting to visitors. BK.LUWO is a women's empowerment group based in East Oxford Community centre. They come together twice a week to offer peer support, share skills and just be. We invited them along and they decided to make the Pitt Rivers their home for the afternoon covering the balcony with their craft projects!

Photograph by John Wreford

A Private View was held for community members and organisations involved with the project, of two new temporary displays, Syrians Unknown and Identity Without Borders. Syrians Unknown is a photographic exhibition by John Wreford which will be on display until September 2017. Visit the Upper Gallery to encounter large scale portraits of people displaced from Syria, now surviving and thriving in Istanbul, Turkey. Each person photographed has written powerful testimonies about their experiences. The exhibition is in English and Arabic.

Identity Without Borders is a display of Pitt Rivers Museum objects and loaned objects co-curated by volunteers who came to the UK seeking asylum. The two case displays were developed with community volunteers in partnership with Refugee Resource and Asylum Welcome. Through facilitated visits to the collections volunteers have used familiar museum objects to share stories from their home countries and reflect on their identities.

Nuzhat Abbas singing at Identity Without Borders
We also co-hosted, with TORCH, an event exploring identity, memory and migration. The event was a really interesting and thought provoking session chaired by the Museum Director Dr Laura Van Broekhoven. Lots of people came along to discuss this timely topic. 

Amir Darwish, a Syrian/Kurdish poet, led two Poetry workshops at the museum. Budding and established wordsmiths were encouraged to join in.  People who took part in the workshops also had the chance to perform their poems at the Identity Without Borders event.

The Pitt Rivers Museum has also supported English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) provision for refugees. Oxford University Student Administration identified the museum as a location to teach English to refugees. The volunteer teachers delivered language lessons for women with young children, and museum provided family activities for the children, enabling parents to attend.

African Dance Oxford performing at Identity Without Borders

Identity Without Borders, was the public evening event celebrating the project, with our community partners performing dance, poetry and music in the Pitt Rivers Museum. The event was a celebration of identity and who we are - showcasing the two new exhibitions: Syrians Unknown and Identity Without Borders. Refugees make up most of the performers and this event was a culmination of activities which have spanned over the last three months.

All of these events are part of the Migration project which aims to connect people who have suffered forced migration to engage with the collections and the PRM as a space. 

Thanks go to ...

Firstly thank you to all the community members and especially Asylum Welcome and Refugee Resource for their support. Thank you to Nicola and Beth who co-managed the project. Many thanks to everyone in the museum who helped get the migration project going, especially to Al and Chris who managed to install both displays at a very busy time. I'd also like to say thank you to George who helped translate activities into Arabic - really, really helpful! 

Jozie Kettle
VERVE Programming and 
Communications Officer

Monday, 15 May 2017

Forest+Found - Makers in Residence (Archaeology)

I am thrilled to announce this year’s VERVE Visiting Makers in Residence are Forest+Found. Collaborative makers Max Bainbridge and Abigail Booth are fine artists whose experiments with traditional and less traditional making processes create objects that celebrate the intrinsic beauty of found natural materials. 

As part our Heritage Lottery Funded VERVE project, Max and Abi are taking inspiration from the newly redisplayed archaeology collection. These new displays bring together archaeological objects from across the world. Organised by material, they showcase thousands of years of human endeavour and highlight the ability of humans to create functional objects that solve to everyday life problems using the environment around them.

What excites me most about this collaboration with Max and Abi is the synergy between their own working practice and the archaeology on display. Making from found materials through experimental techniques that give a nod to traditional processes, Forest+Found learn through practice, refining their techniques guided by the material itself, in a similar way to the earliest humans.

Max and Abi looking at Egyptian rush matting from the Archaeology collection
Forest+Found researching the VERVE archaeology collections
© Pitt Rivers Museum
To kickstart the residency Max and Abi visited our research space with support from our wonderful collections team. They were drawn to two main areas of the collection: the stone archaeology that does not immediately reveal its functional use but is a charismatic form, alongside organic woven pieces that immediately tell you their function despite being a fragment of their original object. 

Forest+Found residency research visit - object Scottish Carved ball
Carved ball, Scotland; 1892.60.12 © Pitt Rivers Museum
To see more about Forest+Found and their residency so far visit their blog at or follow them on Instagram @forestandfound to see their stunning photographs documenting their residency.

Experimental workshops participants
Experimental making workshop © Forest+Found 
As part of the residency Max and Abi would like to meet you. They will be running the following events:

Saturday 27 May – Experimental Object Workshop
This workshop is suitable for over 16s who are looking to reengage with their own creative practice or have a go at being creative for the first time. It will enable participants to trial, test and investigate found natural materials to re-imagine and create new objects inspired by the museum’s collections. Find out more and book your place visit

Thursday 1 June – The Future of Objects
The Future of Objects is a roundtable event with some fascinating speakers. Info and book:

In the meantime, and in anticipation of their final installation, come and see the archaeology displays that are currently being installed on the top floor of the Museum.

Beth McDougall
VERVE Education and Outreach Officer

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Taking over the Museum

The Pitt Rivers Museum regularly holds events curated by young people taking over the Museum.  Recently we hosted two evening events with groups of young adults working in collaboration with staff to organise and curate alternative social evenings at the Museum, drawing on themes suggested by the collections. This initiative is part of the Need Make Use project.   

In February Oxford University Visual Material Museum Studies students and Oxford Brookes Anthropology Society committee jointly organised an event inspired by women Anthropologists, entitled Journeys. The evening event was planned over a few months. Two key female figures, Mary Kingsley and Beatrice Blackwood, were chosen and objects collected and donated by them were selected to form a trail around the museum.  The students organised every aspect of the event from designing the poster, to creating ticket booking links, inviting speakers to talk, writing text about objects on the trail and curating temporary exhibitions with objects from the collection and artefacts collected by current anthropologists. 

Photographs by Wenqian Wang

On the evening the student volunteers manned the door, helped staff the bar and ran craft activities inspired by journeys. Even the drinks were inspired by Anthropologists, such as gin and tonic, highlighting the quinine Kingsley took medicinally.  Shannon said ''It was a fantastic experience and definitely something I would be interested in taking part in again''.

In March students from Reading College put on a fashion and accessories showcase 'Reading College Fashion meets Pitt Rivers'.  During a visit to the museum the students were challenged with the task of creating outfits under the themes of ‘armour’ and ‘multiform’ that were inspired by the Museum collections.  The students then displayed their final pieces in a fashion show at the Museum. The show highlighted the diverse range of objects and artefacts that inspired the costumes.  The balcony was utilised to display the accessories, sketchbooks and a film of the students talking about their creations.  The film and production side of the event was also student led, undertaken by Reading College media students.  Members of Pitt Youth Action Team helped out at the event by running craft and interactive activities with the education handling collection.  

When ask what they liked about the event one visitor said ''That designs were from objects in the museum, great designs, ideas and impressive pattern cutting and finishing and materials. It was a great show, well done!''.

Photographs by Reading College
Madeleine Ding
VERVE Volunteers Officer and Curatorial Assistant

Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Casts and copies

The last of our new Archaeology display cases deals with an often-unconsidered part of a museum’s collections, replicas. Authenticity is key with museums, but when used properly we can learn a lot from replicas. Our excellent education team have several in their handling collection that they use to teach with. However, the Museum’s main collection also has around 500 plaster casts, as well as other replica objects made in different materials. Many of these were created as teaching aids in the 19th and 20th century.

Layout for the new Casts and Copies case

Our new Casts and Copies display will show the breadth of replica objects that the Museum holds. They include a plaster cast of the "Clacton Spear", a 400,000 year old wooden point excavated from Clacton on Sea and a plaster cast of "The Venus of Dolni Vesternice", one of the earliest known ceramic objects. This replica was donated by Karol Absolon, who excavated the original and it is known to have been used by Derek Roe, Professor of Palaeolithic Archaeology at the University in the 1990s in his teaching. 
1921.30.1 Cast of the “Clacton Spear”             
1931.43.1 Cast of the “Venus of Dolni Vesternice”    
Making plaster cast replicas of important objects allowed academics and students to study them more easily. General Pitt-Rivers, like many other collectors of his era, amassed replicas alongside original objects. He also had a great interest in experimental archaeology reproducing objects to attempt to discern how they were used. We have several of these in the Museum’s collections.

1884.125.148 and 1884.122.2 Casts of a palaeolithic hand axe. 1884122.2 is painted with lines showing how it was produced.

One of our more unusual objects included in the new display is a replica Bronze Age spearhead found in Kirtomy Moss, Scotland. At first glance, this appears to be another painted plaster cast, however, it is actually made of paper, carefully painted to resemble the original bronze. A fact that is not really apparent until you lift it up and discover it is almost weightless! 

1894.25.1.1 Paper cast of a Bronze Age spear

Replicas can also become extremely important if the whereabouts of the original object are unknown. The Museum holds a collection of four plaster casts made of the West Buckland hoard, a Middle Bronze Age hoard comprising a torc, bracelet and two axe heads. Two of which will be displayed in our new case. The original objects were never part of Pitt-Rivers’ collection and their location is now unknown, making the plaster casts that the Museum holds even more important. The casts were made by a member of the Ready family. The Ready's worked as restorers at the British Museum in the 19th century and early 20th century. They also sold and restored objects for private collectors, such as Pitt-Rivers, which is how these plaster casts were obtained.

1884.82.121 plaster cast of a bracelet 

1884.119.140 plaster cast of a hand axe 

Work on our new archaeology displays will be happening throughout 2017 so keep watching the Upper Gallery cases for new installations.

Sian Mundell 
VERVE Curatorial Assistant