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Egypt and Sudan


There are more than 7,000 objects in the Oriental Museum's Ancient Egyptian collections, ranging in date from the Pre-Dynastic (5500-3100 BCE) to the Coptic periods (after 395 CE) and covering almost all categories of object from monumental sculpture to woven sandals.

The core of the collection was formed by Algernon Percy, the Fourth Duke of Northumberland (1792-1865) in the mid-nineteenth century. The Duke had developed a fascination for Egypt following his visit to the country in 1826 and in later years he developed large collections of both British and Egyptian antiquities, which he proudly displayed at the family seat of Alnwick Castle.

The Duke’s collection of over 2,000 objects was largely purchased via English auctions rather than during his travels in Egypt and included material originally acquired by James Burton and by the British Consul, Henry Salt. It was fully published in 1880 in a lavish volume written by Samuel Birch and illustrated by Joseph Bonomi. The collection was added to by Henry, Earl Percy (1871-1909) and remained on display at Alnwick well into the twentieth century, prior to being removed to the British Museum for conservation shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War.

In the 1940s the decision was taken to sell the collection. Both the British Museum and the Brooklyn Museum expressed an interest in acquiring all or part of the collection, but the Duke’s successors were keen that the collection should remain intact and - if possible - in the North East of England. Happily, Durham University had also indicated its desire to obtain the collection and, thanks to the generous assistance of Dr and Mrs H N Spalding, was able to raise the £12,000 asking price.

In 1971 the University’s holdings of Egyptian artefacts was substantially enlarged by the acquisition of part of the collection of Sir Henry Wellcome. Wellcome, a founding partner of the well-known drug company, amassed one of the largest private collections ever made in the fields of archaeology, anthropology and the history of human health. After his death in 1936, it took more than 50 years for his Trustees to distribute the collection among museums and libraries across the UK. The Oriental Museum was fortunate to receive a collection of around 4,000 Egyptian artefacts. This material greatly strengthened the museum’s holdings of amulets, stone tools and other Pre-Dynastic objects.

These two core collections have been supplemented by targeted purchases, other small donations and material from the archaeological excavations at Qasr Ibrim, Buhen and Saqqara carried out by W B Emery and the Egypt Exploration Society in the 1950's and 1960's with the support of Durham University.

The importance of the collections was emphasised in 2008 when they received Designated Status from the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council in recognition of their national and international importance.

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Search Durham collections using our online database. Explore items from the Oriental Museum that aren't on display.

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North East Ancient Egypt Society

The Oriental Museum regularly hosts events organised by the NEAES.

A range of events from fun to academic are organised throughout the year which are open to everyone. You can find details of the events being held at the Oriental Museum in our What's On pages. For a full listing of all NEAES events, check out their website.

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