Oxford is full of things to see such as medieval colleges and a lovely stretch of the Thames. Of course, you can find similar sights in other parts of England, although not in such a dense concentration that makes Oxford a perfect day trip from London. The one thing Oxford has that is truly unique is the Pitt Rivers Museum.
The Pitt Rivers is laid out the way museums used to be: cabinets packed with artifacts and the walls and even the ceiling adorned with totem poles, statues, shields, spears, and canoes. Even when it opened in the 1880s it was a bit different from other museums, though. Instead of the displays being organized by region and period, they’re organized by use. For example, one case has fire-making equipment, ranging from simple wooden tools used by Australian Aborigines to matches from 19th century Europe to rather dangerous-looking lighters from a hundred years ago.
The collection started with a donation in 1884 of 20,000 objects collected by anthropologist Lt.-Gen. Augustus Henry Lane Fox Pitt Rivers. He was interested in how different cultures solved the same problems, such as lighting a fire, creating currency, or dealing with the dead. The collection has now grown to half a million artifacts from pretty much every culture and time period.
You name it, they have it. Egyptian mummy? Check. Inuit snow goggles? Check. Witch in a bottle? Check. Helmet made from a blowfish? Check. They even have a nice collection of shrunken heads.
%Gallery-131982%My five-year-old son loves this place. All kids love this place. In fact, it regularly gets chosen as Britain’s favorite museum. At the door they give you a flashlight so you can shine it into the dimly lit cases and pretend to be an explorer. Under the cases are drawers you can open to reveal more stuff.
It never ends. We’ve been in there dozens of times and each time we discover something new. A guard who has been working there for ten years told me the same thing. My kid has never gotten bored at the Pitt Rivers and often asks to go there when we’re in Oxford. Unlike in a lot of museums, you hear more kids complaining that they’re leaving than that they’re going in.
And if that doesn’t make it the coolest museum in the world, I don’t know what does.