Human Heart in a Heart-shaped Cist, Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford

The strongest reference I have found for my current body of work (which centers around the autobiographical, museological display and the Irish experience) is an object housed at the Pitt Rivers Museum at Oxford University.

The Pitt Rivers museum, founded in 1884, is a museum of anthropology and world archeology.  Its collections include materials by peoples from cultures around the world and from throughout history. While the focus of the Museum is on human cultures and how different peoples have solved the problems of everyday life, the collections include human remains acquired to show some aspect of culture, such as burial customs. 

The artifact that I am researching is one with the object number 1884.57.18, a human heart in a heart shaped cist.

Human Heart in a Heart Shaped Cist

(Click on the image to go to more information)

This object is particularly interesting as it raises questions for me about colonialism, burial practices and artifact studies.

This object, according to the Pitt Rivers website, was found in the basement of a church in county Cork, Ireland by General Pitt-Rivers on one of his expeditions to the country in the 1880s. This raises various questions about why Pitt-Rivers decided to extract this object from its current location and house it in a foreign museum; is colonialism to blame for this object and other objects being housed in British museums; do objects being housed in foreign museums help the discourse around such objects and themes to be opened up to an audience that would otherwise have not been exposed to it?

A sound file of the curator talking about this object can be found here.

I’ll be going further into these themes in subsequent posts as this research and project progresses so watch this space.


Leave a Reply