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Ashmolean Museum
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Ashmolean Museum

The Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, England is the world's first and oldest university museum. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built in 1678 - 1683 to house the collection of curiosities Elias Ashmole gave Oxford University in 1677 -- the ones he had collected himself as well as those he had inherited from the travellers John Tradescant, father and son. The collection included antique coins, books, engravings, geological specimens, and zoological specimens -- one of which was the stuffed body of the last dodo ever seen in Europe, but by 1755 it was so moth-eaten it was destroyed, except for its head and one claw. The museum opened on June 6, 1683.

After the various specimens had been moved into new museums, the "Old Ashmolean" building on Broad Street was used as office space for the Oxford English Dictionary staff. Since 1935 the building has been established as the Museum of the History of Science, with exhibitions including the scientific instruments given to Oxford University by Lewis Evans (1853-1930), amongst them the world's largest collection of astrolabes.

The present building dates from 1845. It was designed by Charles Cockerell in a Classical style and stands in Beaumont Street. One wing of the building is occupied by the Taylor Institution, the modern languages faculty of the university. The main museum contains the original collections of Elias Ashmole and John Tradescant (father and son), as well as huge collections of archaeology specimens and fine art. It has one of the best collections of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, maiolica pottery and English silver.

The interior of the Ashmolean has been extensively modernised in recent years and now includes a restaurant and large gift shop. The Sackler Library, incorporating the older library collections of the Ashmolean, opened in 2001 and has allowed an expansion of the book collection, which concentrates on classical civilization, archaeology and art history.

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