FRANCIS Maddison, the Arabist and historian who became Curator of Oxford's Museum of the History of Science, has died aged 78.

A love of languages and a delight in the bizarre, allied to careful and accurate scholarship, were the characteristics that led Mr Maddison from his undergraduate studies in modern languages and history to the direction of world-class collection of scientific and technical artefacts in Oxford.

Francis Romeril Maddison was born in Hounslow, London, and was educated at Hounslow College, and at Exeter College, Oxford, where he took a degree in Modern History, having switched from Modern Languages.

Mr Maddison was also fascinated by archaeology, and as president of the university's archaeological society in 1948 he learned to cut flint in the palaeolithic manner from RJC Atkinson, under whose supervision he directed excavations at Cricklade and Dorchester. He was a member of the British School at Rome expedition to Leptis Magna, Tripolitana in 1949, before becoming assistant archivist, first at Glamorgan County Record Office, and then in Warwickshire.

While preparing an exhibition about the Warwickshire county historian Sir William Dugdale, he met CJ Josten, Curator of the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, who was collecting materials for his life of Elias Ashmole, Dugdale's son-in-law.

Shortly afterwards, Josten encouraged Mr Maddison to accept the post of assistant curator at the museum, instead of archivist to the University Press.

It was the beginning of a 40-year association with the museum.

Among the many riches of the museum is the collection of more than 100 astrolabes - believed to be the largest collection of its kind in the world - and some two-thirds of which are Arabic-Islamic instruments.

Mr Maddison had already learnt the rudiments of Arabic from his father, but he now extended his command of the language while studying and re-displaying these instruments.

He also extended his research interests into the history of horology, time-measurement and early techniques of navigation of the sea.

In 1964, Mr Maddison succeeded Josten as Curator of the Museum of the History of Science, and from the early 1970s collaborated with the Parisian antiquarian bookseller Alain Brieux in a major epigraphal study of all the known works of Arab-Islamic and Hindu mathematical instrument-makers.

He had a fine eye, and immediately detected in the early 1970s a group of fake astrolabes and sundials which had started to appear in the London sales rooms.

With the core of Mr Maddison's scholarly interests and research lying in the Latin and Arabic Middle Ages, it was natural that he should become president of the Society for the History of Medieval Technology and Science when this was founded in 1986.

In 1978, he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and in 1983 he was elected to the International Academy of the History of Science.

With his first wife Audrey Kent, who died in 2004, Mr Maddison had a daughter and a son.

With his second wife, Patricia Brown, who survives him, he had another son.