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Libraries and Special Collections in County Durham

Archaeology

The landscape of Durham is rich in artefacts of archaeological interest. Ranging from pre-historic tools to Roman forts, the extensive research collections in and around Durham reflect the inimitable potential of this region for the study of archaeology.



Pre-historic

Pre-historic archaeological material can be found in the Durham University Museum of Archaeology and The Bowes Museum, with pre-historic flint tools being strongly represented in both collections.

The Museum of Archaeology boasts examples of Neolithic animal bone and cup-and-ring marked stones as well as Bronze Age tools and weapons from sites located throughout the region.

Highlights of The Bowes Museum collection include a slab of prehistoric rock art known as the Gainford Stone, Bronze Age pottery from Cyprus and ring-stones from Teesdale Moor.

Researchers might also wish to consult the Antiquities Collection, held by the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Covering human activity from the Palaeolithic up to the Iron Age, the pre-historic material in the Antiquities Collection includes 174 Neolithic stone axes and the largest collection of Neolithic and Bronze Age cup-and-ring stones housed in any British Museum. 


Ancient Greece

The Durham University Museum of Archaeology houses an important collection of Ancient Greek ceramics including black-figure and red-figure wares, as well as examples of Corinthian geometric pottery. The collection also includes a fine series of electrotype copies of ancient Greek coins, produced by Robert Ready of the British Museum in the late nineteenth century.

Further afield, the Shefton Collection of Greek Art and Archaeology, held by the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, constitutes the most substantial collection of archaeological material from the Greek world in the North of England. 


Ancient Egypt

The Durham University Oriental Museum houses an extensive collection of Ancient Egyptian artefacts dating from the Pre-dynastic period through to the Coptic period. The collection comprises around 6,500 artefacts ranging from monumental sculpture to woven sandals.

The Bowes Museum also contains Ancient Egyptian artefacts, such as a mummified hand, whilst the Egyptian Collection at the Great North Museum: Hancock in Newcastle-upon-Tyne includes several mummies as well as material relating to farming, personal adornment, religious belief and the afterlife.


Near East and Asia

As the only museum in the North East dedicated to the art and archaeology of the Orient, the Durham University Oriental Museum holds substantial collections relating to archaeological sites in China, India, South Asia and the Near and Middle East.

The Indian and South Asian collection contains artefacts relating to Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism and Jainism as well as nearly 5,000 photographs of archaeological sites and monuments in India.

The Chinese collection comprises over 10,000 objects including tomb models and figures, weapons, chariot fittings, a substantial collection of ceramics and the largest collection of jades in the British Isles.

The Near and Middle East collection relates primarily to the Islamic World and consists of a small but representative group of ceramics, examples of fine calligraphy and painted miniatures, and excellent Mughal jades. The Ancient Near East is well-represented by excavated material from Jerusalem, Jericho, Lachish, Ur and Nimrud.


Africa

The Durham University Sudan Archive contains several collections relating to archaeological excavations in Africa. Relevant collections include Addison, F.Newbold, D., and Robinson, A. E. 

There are also a number of museum objects, including material of archaeological interest, located in the Sudan Archive. Researchers should contact the Durham University Archives and Special Collections team for further information. 


Rome

The Durham University Museum of Archaeology holds a substantial collection of archaeological artefacts charting the history of Roman rule in north-east England. A collection of over fifty Roman inscribed and sculptured stones are of key research interest for Roman military scholars, as is the Oswald-Plique collection which comprises nearly 5,000 shards of Gaulish samian pottery.

The Bowes Museum likewise holds a significant amount of Roman archaeological material from Ebchester, Chester-le-Street, Binchester, and Piercebridge. Important local objects include a Roman Head Pot excavated from Piercebridge.

In Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the Antiquities Collection at the Great North Museum: Hancock boasts a group of carved and inscribed stones from Hadrian’s Wall as well as Roman pottery, jewellery, armour, weapons and domestic items.

The Roman material is complemented by the Wiper Photographs, the Romans Collection, and the University of Durham Department of Archaeology Photographic Deposit, which are all held by Durham University Archives and Special Collections.


Anglo-Saxon

Anglo-Saxon stone sculpture is particularly well-represented in the research collections in Durham. The Durham University Museum of Archaeology contains two striking examples of stone sculpture whilst Durham Cathedral holds an extensive and unique collection of decorated crosses and 'hog-back' grave markers dating from the seventh to the eleventh centuries.

The relics of St Cuthbert held by Durham Cathedral, including the late seventh-century wooden coffin and the seventh-century pectoral cross, also stand testament to the rich cultural heritage of the North East during the Anglo-Saxon period. 

The Anglo-Saxon material is complemented by the Wiper Photographs, the Romans Collection, and the University of Durham Department of Archaeology Photographic Deposit all held by the Durham University Archives and Special Collections.

Other relevant collections include The Bowes Museum, which holds Anglo-Saxon metalwork from burials in Easington, and the Antiquities Collection at the Great North Museum: Hancock which contains the Rothbury and Nunnykirk crosses as well as Saxon pottery, metal work and an important coin collection.

The seventh-century monasteries of Wearmouth-JarrowEscomb Saxon Church, and the Holy Island of Lindisfarne might also be of interest to those studying this period.


Medieval and Post-Medieval

The Durham University Museum of Archaeology has a large volume of medieval and post-medieval material from Durham city including leatherwork, early textiles, bone, wood, pottery, clay pipes, and glass. 

The Claypath glass assemblage of over one hundred bottles represents the largest assemblage of post-medieval domestic glass in the country whilst excavations from the vicinity of Durham Cathedral and the associated priories of Finchale and Bearpark are of importance for medieval architectural studies.

The Museum of Archaeology also has a significant archive and photographic collection, notably the Durham Townships Survey, which is supplemented by the University of Durham Department of Archaeology Photographic Deposit held by the Durham University Archives and Special Collections.

The Archaeology Collection at The Bowes Museum and the Antiquities Collection held by the Great North Museum: Hancock both have substantial holdings of medieval pottery.


Museum of Archaeology

The Durham University Museum of Archaeology is dedicated to the preservation of local archaeological artefacts. It contains a variety of objects ranging from pre-historic flint blades to post-medieval pottery.

Oriental Museum

The Oriental Museum is the only museum in the North of Britain devoted entirely to the art and archaeology of the Orient. Visitors can explore galleries devoted to China, Ancient Egypt, Japan, India and Tibet, the Islamic World and South East Asia.

Special Collections and Archaeology

Explore the Durham University Special Collections and discover their inimitable potential for the study of Archaeology.