Palaeontology and Geology

The Great North Museum: Hancock has a wide range of palaeontological and geological collections. Fossil collections contain vertebrate, invertebrate and botanical specimens from the Permian and Carboniferous as well as other eras, including Thomas Atthey’s and Thomas Barkas’ Coal Measure Fossil collections. The collection of fossil plants is one of the most important geological collections within the museum.

The museum also holds two sets of cabinet maker Thomas Sopwith’s wooden geological models.

With such extensive collections there are many opportunities for research. We would particularly love for the following objects in our collection to be investigated further:

  • Fossil fish from the Old Red Sandstone of Achanarras
  • Fossil plants from the Old Red Sandstone of Achanarras
  • Fossil starfish of Northumberland and Durham
  • Trace fossils of Northumberland and Durham
  • Recently re-discovered Permian Coelacanth, originally described by Adam Sedgwick.


The Great North Museum’s fossil vertebrate collections are of international importance and include many type, figured and cited specimens. The collections include Carboniferous amphibians, Carboniferous and Permian fish, and a small number of Permian reptiles. Specimens of note are: type skulls of the fossil amphibians Kyrinion martilli and Megalocephalus pachycephalus, the holotype of the Permian reptile Adelosaurus huxleyi, type specimens of the fossil fish Acentrophorus and the recently re-discovered Coelacanthus granulatus described by Adam Sedgwick in 1829. 

Many of the type fossils were photographed and scanned for 3d printing as part of the JISC GB3D Type Fossil project:

Other fossil vertebrates include Devonian fish, small collections of Jurassic and Cretaceous marine reptiles, Tertiary vertebrates, and numerous Pleistocene sub-fossil bones from local and national localities.

Fossil invertebrates include representative fauna from the British Palaeozoic strata including specimens figured in Logan’s monograph "The Permian Bivalvia of Northern England", together with sizeable Mesozoic and Cenozoic collections.

The collection of fossil plants is one of the most important geological collections within the museum, and considered to be the third most important fossil plant collection in the country. In addition to the Hutton collection, which has many type specimens, the museum also holds 113 slides made by H. Witham (1799-1844), the first researcher to use such techniques.

The Albert Long collection consists of over 15,000 palaeobotanical slides from coal balls collected from Berwickshire, the majority of which are held by the Great North Museum. In this material there is a considerable number of type, figured and cited specimens.


The Great North Museum’s mineral collection has its origins in the early 19th century, the nucleus of which was collected by William Hutton (1797-1860). Hutton was also instrumental in acquiring for the museum the collection of about 1,000 Russian minerals donated by Tsar Nicholas I in 1838. The museum also holds the Newcastle University Mineral Collection. This collection consists of approximately 8,000 minerals from UK and Worldwide localities and contains some extremely rare and valuable specimens. Within the museum's wider collection is the type specimen and almost all known examples of the mineral "jarrowite". Also of note are the 'Sunday Stones', the petrified deposits accumulated inside wooden pipes in local coal mines.

The mineral collection is largely from northern England but includes UK and Worldwide reference material; it is seen as an irreplaceable resource for the study of topographic mineralogy, particularly where original localities no longer exist.


The rock collection consists of over 4,000 specimens mainly representative of local geology but containing considerable numbers of rock types from throughout the UK and the world. Significant additions include a large collection of rocks from Professor Tomkeiff, a set of Whin Sill specimens which were the subject of research by B. Randall, and a collection of Zambian ores made by B. Temperley during the early part of the 20th Century.  A collection of more than 150 samples of ‘Singing sand’ from as far afield as Japan and Australia were acquired during the 1980s.

Geological models and maps

Geological models include those of Thomas Sopwith. Sopwith (1803-1879) was a cabinet maker who also had a career in engineering and surveying. He won the Telford Silver medal for his outstanding wooden geological models several of which are held at the GNM:Hancock. Sopwith's firm also made furniture for the museum. In addition, there are archival collections relating to Sopwith including drawings of his models.

Other miscellaneous geological collections include an original copy of the first published geological map of the UK, produced by William Smith in 1815 and a rare White Watson tablet, a representation in rocks of the strata of the Derbyshire Coal Field area.