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The Duckworth Laboratory

A Brief History of the Duckworth Collections

timelineThe Duckworth Laboratory, responsible for the curation and study of the Duckworth Collections, was established in 1945.It was named after Dr. W.L.H. Duckworth, former Reader in Human Anatomy at Cambridge, who brought together the different collections of human anatomy and osteology in the University, as well as other human biological materials and osteological remains of non-human primates. The materials in the collection have many different origins – both in terms of who collected them, and how each particular collection ended up at Cambridge. Many aspects of the history of the collections remain unclear, as material changed hands more than once and records may have been lost in the course of the past 200 years.

The Duckworth Collections of human osteology and related materials originate from the amalgamation of part of the collections in three Cambridge institutions – the Museum of Zoology, the Anatomy Department, and the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology.

From the Museum of Zoology, the Duckworth Collection received the human remains collected by William Clark, who was Professor of Anatomy at Cambridge between 1816-1865. The Museum of Zoology has the original accession books of the Clark Collection.

From the Department of Anatomy, the Duckworth Collection received its entire osteological collection, which was itself the amalgamation of at least seven collections – that of Thomas Lawrence, bought by the University in 1804; that of James Macartney, Professor of Anatomy in Dublin, bought by the University in 1815; that of Sir George Humphry, Professor of Human Anatomy at Cambridge between 1866-1883, who besides being a keen collector himself, had bought the collections of S. Van der Kokl from Utrecht, of John Thurnam from southern England (which included several Neolithic remains), and possibly some or all of the collection of human remains from the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital; that of Alexander Macalister, Professor of Anatomy at Cambridge between 1884-1916, who also was a prolific collector; part of the collection of the famous Egyptologist Flinders Petrie, who had donated his materials from the excavations at Hierakonpolis to the University; the large collection from Karl Pearson, consisting mostly of skeletal remains from the UK and Egypt; as well as the personal collection of Wynfrid HL Duckworth, who was Lecturer in Physical Anthropology at the Department of Anatomy, and then Reader in Human Anatomy.

The Duckworth Collections - Source Collections and Series

From the Museum of Archaeology & Anthropology, the Duckworth Collection received all the human osteological materials, as well as hairs, most of which was part of larger ethnographic and/or archaeological collections in the museum. Of the many osteological collections and or series received from the MAA, a few stand out either because of the quantity or the nature of the material. These are the very early materials from the collection of the Cambridge Antiquarian Society, material from A. Maudsley & Sir Arthur Gordon’s personal collection from Polynesia; from the personal collection of Baron Anatole von Hugel, first Curator of the Museum who had travelled and collected extensively in the South Pacific; material collected by Emile Clement in the course of his trips to Western Australia; the very large collections, particularly of skulls, made by the Cambridge Expedition to the Torres Straits and donated by Alfred C. Haddon to the MAA; the unique collection of skulls and hairs made by A. Radcliffe-Brown during his studies in the Andaman Islands; the material collected by Louis Leakey at the Teita Hills, Kenya; the material from Bushnell’s excavations in the Americas; as well as the large number of human remains from the area of Cambridge, one of the few parts of the Collection which is added to occasionally.

The Duckworth Collections thus became part of the Duckworth Laboratory, the Director of whom was initially associated with the Lectureship in Physical Anthropology of the Department of Archaeology & Anthropology at Cambridge. After the creation of the Duckworth Laboratory the physical amalgamation of the collections took place. Thus the materials were moved from the Department of Anatomy, from the Museum of Zoology, from the MAA and from the attic of the Arch & Anth building (where the Haddon Library’s periodical rooms are now), to the basement of the Oriental Studies building at the Sedgwick site. We have not found records that describe this transfer, who was responsible or what materials from the Anatomical Collections became part of the Duckworth and which did not. The first Director of the Collection was Dr. Jack C. Trevor, who was assisted by Mr. Bernard Denston. Bernard Denston was employed by the University from the age of 14 as “boy”; after the war (during which he was a prisoner in a Japanese camp), he was taught Osteology by Dr. Trevor, and worked as technical assistant to the Duckworth until his retirement in 1987. Jack Trevor was interested in human diversity and admixture, among many other topics, and was one of the signatories of the international Statement on Race issued by the UNESCO after WWWII (1951). He added to the collection important series from the Horn of Africa, but otherwise did not implement any curatorial strategy. Jack Trevor died young, and Dr. James P. Garlick was appointed to the post. Dr. Garlick’s research did not involve human osteology, and during his tenure, what curation of the material took place was carried out by B. Denston. Robert Foley was appointed to the Lectureship in Physical Anthropology in 1985-6, and soon became involved with the collections. Bernard retired in 1987 (soon after I arrived in Cambridge as a graduate student), and Corinne Duhig was appointed to his post. In the preceding years, the collections had reached a state of disrepair – individual bones were separated from the rest of their skeleton for particular projects or teaching, and not returned, old metal boxes had become distorted and no longer closed, while large numbers of boxes piled onto each other had collapsed, breaking and mixing the contents. Most importantly, mould was found growing over a large part of the material. Thus, an emergency conservation programme was put in place, including the re-boxing of large part of the collection, although unfortunately not all the loose contents of the old boxes were transferred. Between 1988-9, the collections were moved from the basement of the Oriental Studies building to the basement of Keynes House, at the Old Addenbrooke’s Site. In 1991, Robert A. Foley became Director of the Duckworth Laboratory; the following year, Ms. Maggie Bellatti was appointed to the post of technical assistant to the Duckworth after C. Duhig left to do a Ph.D. Robert Foley initiated the first electronic catalogue of the material in the Duckworth Collections, largely carried out by Ms. Bellatti. This catalogue, which formed the backbone of the eDCC (online Duckworth Collection Catalogue), focused on the human skeletal remains, and was based on the material physically within the boxes. In 2000, I became Director of the Duckworth, and together with Robert Foley, obtained permission from the University to create a research centre that would house the Duckworth Laboratory and carry out research in human evolution and diversity – CHES, or Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies. In 2001, we received a generous grant from the Wellcome Trust that funded the construction of a purpose-built building for CHES in Fitzwilliam Street, and another award, shared with the Department of Zoology, from the Leverhulme Trust to pay the salaries of new researchers at the centre, which became LCHES. The new building was opened in 2006, when the gradual transfer of the collections begun, together with the detailed osteological cataloguing of the material and re-boxing of part of the collection. This task was greatly assisted by the creation of a temporary position of research assistant to the Duckworth, occupied by Dr Mercedes Okumura between 2007-10. At present, all but the British series have been transferred to their permanent facilities at LCHES, while work on the osteological catalogue continues through volunteers. No work has ever been undertaken yet on the papers, letters and other archival materials associated with the collections and the Duckworth Laboratory.

Marta Mirazon Lahr, March 2011

The position of Director of the Duckworth Laboratory remains until today a non-stipendary title, the duties involved to be carried out notwithstanding the post-holder’s other responsibilities towards teaching and research. The maintenance and conservation of the collections is funded solely through private donations and bench fees paid by researchers who study the material.



© 2012 Leverhulme Centre for Human Evolutionary Studies - University of Cambridge