The Pitt Rivers Museum was founded in 1884 when Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt-Rivers, an influential figure in the development of archaeology and anthropology, gave his collection of nearly 20,000 objects to the University of Oxford. His gift was made on condition that a museum would be built to house the objects, that they should be displayed by function or ‘type’ and that someone should be appointed to teach these subjects.
The Museum is home to a worldwide collection with objects from many cultures past and present. The objects are grouped according to how they were made or used, rather than by cultural origin or age. This focuses our attention on the creativity and skill with which humans have tackled the common problems of daily life, and adjusted to the environment in which they live. It reveals how ordinary people have lived, thought and communicated.
The collections have grown over the decades to more than half a million artefacts (including photographs, manuscripts, film and sound recordings), and they continue to grow with new donations, bequests, and purchases made by staff and students during their research. Although not everything is on display, the reserve collections are put to other good uses in exhibitions, research projects or loans to other museums.