Natural History & Pitt Rivers Museum

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History

The Oxford University Museum of Natural History houses the University's scientific collections of zoological, entomological and geological specimens. The Museum itself is a Grade 1 listed building, renowned for its spectacular neo-Gothic architecture. Among its most famous features are the Oxfordshire dinosaurs, the dodo, and the swifts in the tower.


The Museum's overall mission is to assemble, preserve, and exhibit the University's natural history collections and to promote research, teaching, and public education in the natural sciences based on the Museum's collections.


The Zoological Collections comprise more than 250,000 specimens, including some 1,000 type specimens. Many extinct and endangered species are represented within the collections, including the most complete remains of a dodo in the world. Notable collections include those of Thomas Bell, William Burchell, and Charles Darwin. Of particular significance are:


  • Australasian mammals
  • William Burchell's collections
  • Birds
  • Charles Darwin's crustacea
  • William Turton's mollusc collection




Pitt Rivers Museum

The Pitt Rivers Museum was founded in 1884 when Lt.-General Pitt Rivers, an influential figure in the development of archaeology and evolutionary anthropology, gave his collection to the University. The Pitt Rivers Museum cares for one of the world's great collections and displays archaeological and ethnographic objects from all parts of the world. The General's founding gift contained more than 18,000 objects but there are now over half a million.


Permanent displays in the Museum include the following:

Pacific island objects, including a magnificent Tahitian mourner's costume, collected during Captain Cook's Second Voyage in 1773-74; Hawaiian feather cloaks in brilliant shades of red and yellow; a wide range of handwoven textiles and looms; a collection of ceremonial brasses and ivories from the Kingdom of Benin; a fine group of early masks worn by actors in Japanese Noh dramas; more masks from Africa, Melanesia and North America; sculpture from all over the world in wood, pottery, metal and stone; boats, ranging from full-sized sailing craft to model canoes; baskets in all possible shapes and sizes; pottery from Africa and the Americas, including many pre-Columbian pieces; costumes from North America including Inuit fur parkas, Plains skin shirts decorated with porcupine quills, painted coats from the Northeastern Woodlands and a range of decorated moccasins; magic objects including amulets and charms; jewellery and body decoration; locks and keys; tools and weapons; musical instruments.


In most ethnographic and archaeological museums the displays are arranged according to geographical or cultural areas. Here they are arranged according to type: musical instruments, weapons, masks, textiles, jewellery, and tools are all displayed in groups to show how the same problems have been solved at different times by different peoples.


Good to know:


  • Admission to the Museums is free.
  • The Museum of Natural History was awarded the Guardian Family Friendly Museum award in 2005 and there is a full programme of family activities running throughout the year.
  • There is no public parking at the Museums.
  • The entrance to the Pitt Rivers Museum is through The Oxford University Museum of Natural History.


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