The Great North Museum’s archaeology collections combine the collections of three former museums in Newcastle: 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.
The museum's wide range of archaeological objects makes it ideal for research projects. Currently there are opportunities for research in the following areas:
- Anglo-Saxons We have interesting coin collections, as well as other metalwork items and stonework. The last major catalogue was produced in 1982.
- Medieval Archaeology There is a large corpus of material, particularly from excavations carried out in the 1980’s and 90’s in Newcastle. There are extensive collections of animal remains and pottery, alongside other types of finds including metalwork and leather.
- Etruscans The Shefton Collection has some highly impressive Etruscan material including metalwork and bucchero pottery.
- Palestinian Archaeology We have material from Sir Flinders Petrie’s excavations at Tell el Ajjul in the 1930’s, as well as other material.
- South America – we have a small collection of objects from South America, including some Chimu potter.
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.
- Animal mummies were transported to Manchester and scanned for the The Ancient Egyptian Animal Bio Bank project. A research project organised by Manchester University’s KNH Centre for Biomedical Egyptology.
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 is 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.
- The contents analysis of Greek feeding cups to assess how they might have been used.
- The production of object biographies on some of the Greek painted pottery. Tracing their histories from their production in Ancient Greece right through to their arrival in the Shefton Collection.
- Work on Brian Shefton’s archive is in progress to assess his significance as a collector of Greek archaeology in the second half of the 20th Century.
The Antiquities collection is the collection of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne, a local society, founded in 1813, that is primarily concerned with the history and archaeology of the North East of England. 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 nevertheless there is an important and representative sample of local and imported pottery from these periods, in addition to other material.
- The Bronze Age collection formed an important element in Newcastle University's Dr Chris Fowler’s reassessment of Early Bronze Age burial in North East England. This led to the publication of The Emergent Past. A Relational Realist Archaeology of Early Bronze Age Burial Practices.
- 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)
- Roman material from the Society of Antiquaries collection formed an important element in the work of the Frontiers of the Roman Empire Digital Heritage Initiative. This Newcastle University study focused on the application of new technologies, including 3D scanning, to further understanding of the past.
- Dr Louisa Campbell from the University of Glasgow, used x-ray and laser technology to identify pigments used to decorate Roman altars in the museum. This was part of a wider research project:‘ Paints and Pigments in the Past’.