Archaeology

The Great North Museum’s archaeology collections combine the Egyptian collection of the Hancock Museum with the Greek and predominantly British collections of Newcastle University's Shefton Museum and the Museum of Antiquities.

Egyptian

The Hancock’s Egyptian collection has its origins in the 19th Century when travelers frequently returned to the North East with items of archaeological interest. The mummy of Bakt en hor, for example, was purchased by Thomas Coates of Haydon Bridge, Northumberland in 1820 and presented to the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle in 1821. Alongside two mummies dating from the Late Period the collection has material relating to farming, personal adornment, religious belief and the afterlife.

Recent Projects

  • Plasmodium falciparum (malaria) study using ELISA technique. Samples from Irt Irw (NEWHM : AREGYPT604) taken by York University.
  • Embalming materials study using GC-MS techniques. Samples taken from Irt Irw. York University - Dr. Stephen Buckley.
  • Radiology of 3 mummified heads from Egyptology collection to determine age at death, AM/PM trauma and to draw new light on the specimens. Carried out at RVI by Gill Scott and Dr Iain Macleod.
  • CT scan imaging and assessment of Bakt hor Nekht's mummy (NEWHM: AREGYPT605) carried out by Gill Scott and Dr Iain Macleod at the Newcastle General Hospital.

Greek

The Shefton Collection of Greek Art and Archaeology takes its name from its founder, Professor Brian Shefton, who taught Greek archaeology at Newcastle University from 1955 until his retirement in 1984. The collection was built up, from small beginnings, by Professor Shefton until it became the most important collection of archaeological material from the Greek world in the North of England.

One of the main strengths of the collection is the extensive range of pottery, covering all the major periods of Greek history from the Mycenaean to the Hellenistic. In particular, there are some fine pieces of Attic red-figure, including works by recognised artists such as the Achilles painter, as well as over one hundred examples of Attic black-glaze ware. Of special note amongst the Attic pottery is the range of vessels used in the symposion (wine drinking party), such as kraters for mixing water and wine, amphorae for storing wine and a large number of wine drinking cups. The collection also possesses several Attic white-ground lekythoi used as oil flasks for offerings at tombs. In addition to the Athenian pottery, there is a significant number of Corinthian vases, as well as examples of Geometric, South Italian, Cypriot and Etruscan pottery styles.

A further important aspect of the collection is the group of metal objects, mostly of bronze although there is a small selection of gold and silver jewellery and some lead appliqués. The bronzes include fittings for metal vessels, such as handles, as well as items used in domestic life, like the Macedonian situla (wine bucket) complete with abstract decoration. Bronze figurines of animals are well represented, most of which would have been offered as votives in sanctuaries. Pride of place, however, goes to the Greek arms and armour, including a Corinthian and an Illyrian helmet. Weapons include several Bronze Age swords and a rare bronze spearbutt, probably of Macedonian manufacture and dating to the late 4th century BC; this is inscribed MAK, the only example so inscribed and hinting at the army of Philip of Macedon. There is also a fine collection of Greek and Etruscan bronze mirrors.

A number of terracotta figures are on display in the Museum in addition to a series of architectural terracottas from Sicily and Southern Italy. The most striking of these is a representation of a gorgon of Sicilian origin, dating to the late 6th century BC. This would have been placed on the roof of a building to scare away evil spirits.

The collection has a range of sculpture including several portrait busts as well as some relief sculpture. One fine figure of Nike is now known to have belonged to John Ruskin and features in several of his sketches and letter entries. The most imposing piece, however, is the colossal porphyry foot from 2nd century AD Roman Egypt. This may have been a votive object offered to a god of healing in thanks for a cure of a foot ailment or in encouragement of the same; alternatively, it may be all that survives of a colossal statue standing about 6 metres high.

Recent Projects

  • Research for publication of the Shefton Collection's ancient Athenian vase (5th century BC) formerly in the Elgin Collection, by Dr Sally Waite (CIAS, Newcastle University)
  • Research into the Shefton collection’s colossal porphyry foot, including collaboration with Richard Leigh chief podiatrist for the University College London Hospitals.

Antiquities

The Antiquities collection is essentially the collection of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, a local society, founded in 1813, that was primarily concerned with the history and archaeology of the North East of England. The main focus of the collection is consequently on archaeological material found in the north-east, although other areas are represented. Chronologically the collections span a period from the earliest evidence of human occupation in the north-east up to the advent of the Stuart monarchy in 1603.

The Prehistoric material in the collection covers human activity from the Palaeolithic up to the Iron Age. Of particular note are the 174 Neolithic stone axes – representing 50% of the axes from the North of England - as well as a significant collection of cup-and-ring stones dating from the Neolithic and Bronze Age, the largest housed in any British museum. There are also good examples of Bronze Age vessels, weapons and tools. Here the Ewart Park Sword, which gives its name to the type as well as to sub-period of the British Bronze Age, is an especially important object as is the Wallington Hoard and the Colette Hoard.

The Roman material in the collection is of international significance. At its core is a group of carved and inscribed stones from Hadrian’s Wall and its outpost forts and hinterland sites, which are critical for the study of Roman Britain and Roman military history. These comprise of altars, building inscriptions and tombstones, as well as relief sculptures. In addition there are many important examples of Roman material culture, including pottery, jewellery, armour, weapons and domestic items.

The most significant items in the collection from the post-Roman period are the Anglo-Saxon sculptures, which include the Rothbury and Nunnykirk crosses. Alongside these are some examples of Saxon pottery and metalwork as well as an important coin collection.

The Medieval and Tudor periods in the collection are less well represented, mainly because material from these periods has only been accepted from 1978 onwards. Nevertheless there is an important and representative sample of local and imported pottery from these periods, in addition to other material.

Recent projects

  • The collection of cup-and-ring stones has long been the focus of research by Stan Beckensall, Dr Aron Mazel and other scholars.
  • The medieval pottery collection is currently undergoing assessment by Andrew Sage for English Heritage.
  • The Roman-British glass bracelets were chemically analysed in a Durham University project to identify the source of their colouring.
  • Professor Anthony King of Winchester University has been studying the Romano-British sculpture for evidence of native deities.
  • The Antiquities’ collection of inscriptions is included in Roman Inscriptions in Britain whilst its Roman sculptural material is included in Corpus Signorum Imperii Romani I.1 and I.6; the sculpture from the hinterland forts is currently being studied by Miss Lindsay Allason Jones (CIAS, Newcastle University) and Dr Jon Coulston (St Andrews University)