County Durham Guide: The Oriental Museum
The Oriental Museum, located just outside of Durham City Centre, offers a wide range of exhibitions. With collections covering North Africa to South East Asia.
Formerly the Gulbenkian Museum of Oriental Art and Archaeology, the Oriental Museum belongs to the University of Durham. Offering free entry, the exhibitions that the museum has to offer are spread out across three floors. There are more than 7,000 objects in the Oriental Museum’s Ancient Egyptian collection, ranging in date from the Pre-Dynastic (5500-3100 BCE) to the Coptic periods. (after 395 CE)
The core of the collection was reportedly formed by Algernon Percy, the Fourth Duke of Northumberland (1792-1865).
Durham University website explains, “The Duke had developed a fascination for Egypt following his visit to the country in 1826 and accumulated a collection of over 2,000 objects, which he proudly displayed at the family seat of Alnwick Castle. This collection was then added to by his nephew, Henry, Earl Percy (1871-1909). Thanks to the generous assistance of Dr and Mrs H N Spalding, Durham University was able to raise the funds to acquire the collection in 1949.
The collection was further enhanced in the years that followed by the donation of artefacts from Durham University-supported archaeological excavations carried out by W B Emery and the Egypt Exploration Society at Qasr Ibrim, Buhen and Saqqara during the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1971, the scope of Durham’s collection was substantially increased by the acquisition of additional material collected by Sir Henry Wellcome, who had amassed an enormous number of artefacts relating to of archaeology, anthropology and the history of human health. The Oriental Museum was fortunate to receive a selection of around 4,000 Egyptian artefacts, greatly strengthening the Museum’s holdings of amulets, stone tools and other Pre-Dynastic objects.
The importance of this Egyptian collection was formally recognised in 2008 when it was granted elite Designated Collection status. in recognition of its national and international significance.”
The collection features a real mummified body that is believed to belong to a 15-year-old boy, along with four Canopic jars of Psamtikpadineith. Dating to the Late Period, 26th Dynasty. (600 BCE)
The ground floor also features the Silk Roads exhibitions, which brings together works from across all of the collections the museum has to offer to tell stories of trade, travel and exchange across the continent of Asia and into Europe, all the way to Durham.
Other permanent exhibitions at the Oriental Museum include a gallery dedicated to China, and named after the distinguished politician and diplomat Rt. Hon. Malcolm Macdonald.
The Himalayas, South Asia and Southeast Asia exhibition featuring an array of objects ranging in date from 2,500 BCE to the 1960s, including ancient Indus Valley ceramics.
The Korean exhibition, which is the smallest in the museum, but highly unusual in that it includes material from both South and North Korea.
And finally, the Japan exhibition, which was created in direst response to visitor interest in beauty and diversity of Japanese art and culture.
The museum has a small drawing area for children, with books and dress up costumes available.
There is an accessible lift to reach all floors, and it takes approximately two hours to fully appreciate all of the artifacts and information the Oriental Museum has to offer.