Shrunken Heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford

Museum of the Month is a series where I share my experiences of visiting unique and often strange museums from around the world. My aim is to rebuff the notion that museums are boring. Join me on my quest!

Shruken Heads Pitt Rivers

Before we head into June, I need to feature a museum on my blog this month so let me introduce you to the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

Everyone knows Oxford for its prestigious university and tweed jackets. But what about its decapitated and shrunken heads?

Lots of people associate Oxford with Harry Potter too, so its funny that the Pitt Rivers Museum is kind of like all the stuff you would expect to find thrown into a witch’s cauldron.

Located at the back of Oxford’s Natural History Museum, through a dimly-lit doorway, lies the Pitt Rivers Museum, (a museum within a museum – naturally, I felt very spoilt) it possesses a looming presence even before entering, pulling the eyes closer by a magnetic string of curiosity.

Oxford, Natural History Museum

Inside the Natural History Museum that leads to the Pitt Rivers Museum

Or perhaps it’s just me and my incessant need to know what lurks on the other side of darkness. Doorways, tunnels, caves, burrows, you name it.

I almost don’t want to give any information away about this museum because I think it’s a good idea to visit without knowing too much about what lies inside, as if it were a treasure chest waiting to be unlocked. So to pique your interest I’m going to leave you with a few photographs I took inside and if you want to know what they are, and what they were used for, I guess you’ll just have to come and visit! This museum is a must for anyone visiting Oxford, especially if travelling and knowing about different cultures is a topic you’re particularly fond of because most of the 300,000+ objects inside the museum were donated by scholars, anthropologists, explorers and travellers.

Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

But before dashing off, I’ve got a little information about the shrunken heads. This collection originates from tribes in the Amazon, up until the 1960s men would traditionally take the heads of their enemies to prove their manhood and to avenge the death of relatives. British explorers initially collected their heads (shrunken to the size of a child’s fist) as they saw them as exotic curiosities. I imagine they serve more for anthropological reasons now, but there is no denying it, they’re a curiosity alright!

Shrunken heads, Pitt Rivers Museum

It’s strange how as the face shrinks it gives the impression of abnormally long eyelashes!

Pitt River Museums

Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford

Inside Pitt Rivers Museum

Pitt Rivers Museum

Pitt Rivers Museum

Pitt  Rivers Museum

Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford


General Information

How to get there: The entrance to the Pitt Rivers Museum is through the Oxford University Museum Natural History (OUMNH) on Parks Road, Oxford, OX1 3PW.
Admission Fee: Free (including the Natural History Museum)
Opening Times: 10 – 16.30 Tue – Sun, 12-16.30 Mon

Have you been to the Pitt Rivers Museum? Or would you like to visit?

A travel & culture blog specialising in Scandinavia and the Arctic, peppered with the rest of the world in between.

'Shrunken Heads at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford' have 9 comments

  1. May 30, 2014 @ 12:40 pm Ricardo Bellonias

    Wow! This museum looks incredible – looks so condensed and crammed full of treasures. Surely those shrunken heads aren’t real?? Definitely on my wish list to visit here next time I’m in Oxford. P.S. The señorita standing amongst the treasures isn’t half-bad either… *wink wink*


    • June 1, 2014 @ 7:09 pm admin

      The shrunken heads are real, and although ghoulish, they present an interesting insight into human behaviour and societies outside the Western world. Haha, I’m not sure about senorita, more like morbid treasure hunter!


  2. May 30, 2014 @ 6:19 pm Richard

    Now that is judge strange. Sunday Times Travel Magazine did a feature on weird museums recently, and this should have been in.


    • June 4, 2014 @ 7:58 pm admin

      I’m curious to know what else was in the list! I’ve been meaning to write my own 😀


  3. May 31, 2014 @ 11:33 pm Brad Bernard

    How cool is that? I saw a bunch of shrunken heads in Borneo when I was with the Iban headhunter tribes. Who knew there was a whole museum? I wish I would have visited last time I was in Oxford, but had no idea this existed.


    • June 4, 2014 @ 8:04 pm admin

      Hi Brad! I want to hear your story about being with the Iban headhunter tribes (hopefully I’ll find it on your blog!). There isn’t a whole museum but rather a cabinet inside a large museum 🙂 Nevertheless, I think an explorer like yourself will love wandering around all the curiosities – you’ll have to go back to Oxford 😀


  4. June 9, 2014 @ 11:14 am Ola

    I haven’t been there 🙁 I haven’t even known anything about this museum but it looks so great. If I have a chance to visit my friends in Oxford this year I will definitely go!
    And the shrunken head… I mean how did they do this? Is the skull inside (or is it creepy to even ask such details?)


    • June 9, 2014 @ 9:10 pm admin

      A very good question Ola! The skull is removed first and this page explains the process: I’m glad you know this museum exists now, it’s definitely one for the inquisitive mind! I hope you visit Oxford again soon (and London :))


  5. October 14, 2014 @ 8:09 pm Wesley Pechler

    Noooo I can’t believe I was in Oxford in August and missed this! It looks absolutely incredible! The cabinets and antiquities remind me of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, absolutely loved feeling like an explorer of old. Next time!


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