The Ashmolean holds part of the founding collection gifted by Elias Ashmole to the University of Oxford in 1677. It consists of ethnographic objects from Asia, Africa and the Americas and a significant collection of European material, especially garments, utensils and intricately carved materials.

Most was collected during the 17th century by the John Tradescants, father and son, and later acquired by Ashmole. The Bodleian Library, Oxford University Museum of Natural History and the Pitt Rivers Museum also hold material from the founding collection.

MacGregor, A. (ed.). Tradescant’s Rarities: Essays on the foundation of the Ashmolean Museum 1683 with a catalogue of the surviving early collections. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1983)

Ovenell, R. F. The Ashmolean Museum 1683-1894. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986).


Temporary suspension of special access/enquiries
Non-European objects in the Founding Collection
1 April 2019 until the beginning of 2020

The reserve European Prehistory collections, Antiquities archive collections (apart from those relating to Aegean and Greek archaeology), and the non-European objects in the Founding Collection will have no curatorial support from 1 April 2019 until the beginning of 2020 while the curator is on research sabbatical leave. It will not be possible to provide access to the collections or respond to enquiries that require specialist knowledge of them during this period. The permanent galleries of European Prehistory (Gallery 17) and The Ashmolean Story (Gallery 2) will remain open and these displays will be unaffected.

General enquiries about these collections can be sent to

Enquiries regarding photography for image orders and reproduction rights should be sent to the Picture Library.