Hull and East Riding Museum of Archaeology

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The museum on High Street is in the Corn Exchange Building dating from 1855. It is a splendid building which dwarfs the smaller brick buildings along the street. The massive entrance has fluted pillars with acanthus leaf capitals. Above is the Kingston upon Hull city arms with three crowns.

Entrance is round the corner on Chapel Lane South and takes you into the shop. This has some books and a wide range of cheap children’s toys and gifts.

Stairs lead through a mock stone tunnel into prehistory with a full size model of a woolly Mammoth, affectionately named Mortimer. Mammoths teeth and tusks are commonly found in local gravel pits. Dinosaur fossils are rare in Yorkshire and the leg bones of an iguanodon on display are the only known dinosaur fossils from Yorkshire. The display then jumps back to the Jurassic period with other fossil exhibits of underwater life including some nice ammonites.

This leads into the archaeology section beginning with stone age hunter gatherers and early farmers. Display cases contain examples of flint blades, scrapers, arrow heads as well as pebble mace heads which could give a deadly blow. There are beautifully formed flint axe heads. There are flint sickles and examples of early grains showing how small the grain heads were compared to modern varieties.

There is information about burials and barrows. On display are copies of three cylinders of chalk carved with geometric patterns. Dating from the late neolithic about 4500 years ago, these were found in a child’s burial on Folkton Wold. The originals are now in the British Museum and referred to as the “Folkton Drums”: although no-one knows what there function was.

There is a late neolithic/bronze age skeleton of a woman from Garton Slack Burrow and display cabinets full of grave goods, particularly pottery. The neolithic bowls are crudely formed. The Bronze Age pots are more carefully crafted and are decorated with beautifully incised geometric patterns.

There are examples of late bronze age gold bracelets. There are some long narrow wooden figures of warriors found when the Holderness area was drained in the 19thC. These are carved from yew and have quartz pebble eyes. They are carbon dated to 2606-2509BC. They had a large penis although many were removed by the prudish Victorians. They are rather uncomfortable figures – a bit like Voodoo art.

The Iron Age gallery has a reconstructed farm with thatched round house with a carcass of meat hanging above an open fire and bed screened off by furs. There is a small wood and thatch barn with a woman tending a goat. In the farm yard is a horse drawn cart and a weaving loom. There is an audio recording in an ancient form of Welsh which is thought to be closely related to the language of the East Riding Celts. Display cases contain loom weights, bone combs and needles. There are examples of iron tools.

Beyond through a corridor lined with narrow tree trunks, is information about the Celts, There is another barrow grave with skeleton and examples of grave goods. These include brooches, necklaces made from blue glass as well as chalk figurines.

Stairs lead up to a display gallery about the Ferriby and Hasholme boats. Boat. The Hasholme boat dating from about 2300BC is displayed. It was carved from a single massive oak trunk 41’ long, which was 800 years old when felled. At the back was a platform a bit like a punt with a simple steering mechanism. It carried cargoes on the sheltered tidal chambers inland. It sank carrying a cargo of wood and beef.

The Ferriby boat dated from about 1500BC and is believed to be the oldest plank boat in Europe. It was made of oak plates held in place with yew withies. Moss was pushed into the joints making them water tight. There is a model here and are some remains of it in the Maritime Museum.

Beyond are the Roman Galleries, possibly the highlight of the museum with the mosaics. There were several large and important villas in the area. The Rudston villa mosaic is virtually intact. At the centre is Venus with long flowing hair with Triton (half human, half fish) at her feet. In each of the corners is a bird and along the sides Leo, Taurus, a stag with splendid antlers and a leopard complete with spots. At the top is a panel with a bust of Mercury with winged cap holding a staff and with trailing vines on either side.

Through a doorway, is a street scene arranged round a square with reconstructed house and shop fronts. In a corner is the tax collector gathering his taxes. There is a stone mason’s workshop complete with graffiti on the walls. Display cases have examples of glassware, oil lamps and jewellery.

On the wall is the Horkstow mosaic with a picture of a chariot race. There is another mosaic from Rudstone with a charioteer with four horses and holding a palm frond and wreath. This is surrounded by circles representing the four seasons with birds between them. There is a mock up of a sitting area with more mosaics and a bath house as well as a reconstruction showing a hypocaust.

A dark corridor leads up to the Medieval galleries, with the prow of a ship landing, which I assume is meant to indicate the arrival of the Anglo Saxons although there was no information about this. There are examples of Anglian and Viking metal work as well as bone and antler combs and jewellery.

The room covering the Norman conquest has chain mail and a helmet on a stand and display cases with stirrups, swords, daggers and arrow heads. There are examples of early medieval stone carving with a splendid Knight’s head and sheep’s head from Beverley Minster.

At this point I felt the museum had lost its way as there were a series of unrelated display cases with little information with leather goods, spinning and weaving, pottery, reading and writing, games and souvenirs. There is a reconstructed timber frame house from 1450 with a display of cooking and eating behind but again little information. Finally there were coffins made from Baltic oak and the base of a massive oak tub used for storing live fish.

It was then back down a ramp to Mortimer the mammoth and the exit.

It is a visually exciting museum and great care has been taken in the planning to make it an attractive place to visit. There is a lot to see and take in during a visit. The early archaeology is covered well but I felt the period after the Romans was skimmed over. Entry is free and there are lifts provided. It is well worth visiting.

For information about the museum click here.

For information about the collections click here.

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