Professional Papers of George Rolleston

Scope and Content

The papers primarily relate to aspects of George Rolleston's craniological and archaeological research during his professional career at Oxford. The largest section is the correspondence files (GR/A), which date from 1861 until just after George Rolleston's death. The vast majority of these letters refer to osteological material and archaeological finds. There are additional series of handwritten notes regarding British barrows, archaeological sites and objects, and osteological material. There are also files of pamphlets,offprints and newspaper cuttings, records cards for museum objects, and photographs and drawings of osteological material and archaeological sites and objects.

Administrative / Biographical History

George Rolleston was born at Maltby Hall, near Rotherham in Yorkshire, on 30 July 1829, the second son of George Rolleston, a rector and squire of Maltby, and his wife Anne Nettleship. In 1861 he married Grace Davy, the daughter of Dr John Davy, and they had three sons and four daughters. He died at age 51 from kidney failure and was buried in Holywell Cemetery, Oxford.

In 1850 he achieved a first-class degree in Classics at Pembroke College, Oxford, and was elected to the college's Sheppard Fellowship in Law and Physics. He studied medicine at St Bartholomew's Hospital, and qualified in 1854. In 1857, he returned to Oxford to work at the Radcliffe Infirmary and was elected to Christ Church College's Lees Reader in Anatomy.

In 1860 Rolleston was selected to become the first Linacre Professor of Anatomy and Physiology at Oxford, a post that he held until his death. As a Professor at Oxford, he taught a wide range of subjects including anatomy, physiology, zoology, comparative anatomy, anthropology and archaeology. These interests are reflected in the subject breadth of his published papers collated after his death by his colleagues William Turner and Edward Tylor under the title 'Scientific Papers and Addresses' (1884).

Rolleston's primary research interest was comparative anatomy, having been inspired by Darwinism and the 1860 meeting of the British Association at Oxford's new University Museum. The memorable debates at that meeting between his friend Thomas Huxley and both Robert Owen and Samuel Wilberforce motivated his own studies of brain development through the classification of skulls in humans and animals. To this end Rolleston acquired an extensive collection of skulls, the small surviving part of which is now held in the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. Rolleston also participated in a number of archaeological excavations in the latter part of his life, and in 1877 he published a book on British Barrows with Canon William Greenwell, Rolleston's contribution focussing on human crania.

Access Information

Material is open for consultation. For information regarding making an appointment to consult archives held by the Department of Antiquities please see, Department of Antiquities Study Room

Other Finding Aids

General information about the George Rolleston papers is available on line at: George Rolleston Archive

A catalogue of the papers by Alice Stevenson is available to download from George Rolleston Archive Catalogue . Please cite this work as: Stevenson, A. 2012. Catalogue of the Professional Papers of George Rolleston. [date accessed]. Available from

Conditions Governing Use

The Ashmolean Museum retains copyright of all archival material, except where otherwise noted, and all researchers are asked to sign copyright disclaimer forms listing the archives consulted.

Photography for research purposes is permitted with the permission of the Curator or the Study Room Supervisor. The Ashmolean Museum retains copyright of all images, and written permission from the Picture Library is needed for any form of publication or non-research use. See information about ordering and reproducing images for commercial, academic or personal use here

Custodial History

The George Rolleston Archive was originally held by the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. It came to the Ashmolean Museum in 1886 as part of a broader transfer of archaeological material from that institution to the Ashmolean. For much of the twentieth century, only the papers concerning archaeological work in Oxfordshire were held directly by the Department of Antiquities, with the rest of material housed in the Ashmolean Museum Library. The papers held by the library were transferred to the Department of Antiquities in the late 1990s, in advance of the Ashmolean Museum Library being incorporated in the newly formed Sackler Library in 2001.

Geographical Names