The oldest public museum in the world, in Oxford, and renowned for its collection of antiquities, perhaps second only to the British Museum within Britain. It was opened freely to the public on 24 May 1683, having been presented to the university by Elias Ashmole (1617-1692).
The collection had been begun by John Tradescant (d. 1638), and was sometimes exhibited to the public for a fee, from his home in Lambeth near London. His son John inherited it, then with his death in 1662 it went to Ashmole.
From the first the new rooms in Broad Street, Oxford, included laboratories and lecture halls as well as the collections on display. These were of both natural objects and human artefacts.
Important acquisitions included in 1718 the Alfred Jewel, an ornate Anglo-Saxon object probably the head of a pointer used during reading; and after Captain Cook's voyages many ethnographic papers from his expedition.
In the mid nineteenth century all the natural history exhibits were hived off to a separate collection, now called the Oxford University Museum of Natural History. In 1884 the renowned archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans was appointed keeper of the Ashmolean, and under him a massive influx of archaeology took place, with a consequent reorganization of Oxford museum collections. They also acquired in 1922 the great coin collection formerly held by the Bodleian Library, and this today is one of the highlights of a visit. The Indian Institute's collection of Chinese, Japanese, Indian, and Islamic art was incorporated into the Ashmolean in 1961.
The museum's home page is www.ashmol.ox.ac.uk/.