Hull and East Riding Museum – one of the fantastic free museums in the city’s Old Town – takes visitors through 235 million years of history. Its unique collection of exhibits allow visitors to look on majestic mammoths, meet Saxon invaders, walk through an Iron Age village and enter a Roman bath house.
Here are 10 of our favourite archaeological gems at the museum.
1. A full-sized woolly mammoth
Not the animal itself, of course, but this scale model of the huge, hairy trunked mammal is unsurprisingly a favourite with many Hull and East Riding Museum visitors. Mammoth remains such as tusks and teeth are found in Holderness and this model gives a glimpse of what you would have seen wandering around in the Ice Age. He has been named ‘Mortimer’ after the next exhibit …
2. Portrait of J.R. Mortimer
The pioneering early archaeologist and corn merchant from Driffield spent a lifetime excavating the burial mounds and cemeteries of the Yorkshire Wolds. Many of the objects in the museum’s Prehistoric and Anglo-Saxon collections were found by him. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Mortimer was very careful to record all his excavations and his detailed plans and notes form one of the most important archives of early archaeology in the country.
3. Roos Carr figures
In 1836, a group of labourers discovered these carved wooden figures while cleaning a ditch at Roos Carr, near Withernsea. At least five figures were recovered, together with a piece of wood resembling a boat decorated with a snake’s head prow. Radiocarbon dating has shown the figures to be about 2,600 years old. It is thought one of the figures was given to the museum later than the others as it had been given to one of the finder’s children to use as a doll.
4. Chalk figure from Withernsea
One of group of unique chalk figures of warriors found in the Wolds. This is one of the few which still has its head – most of the others have been knocked off in antiquity. Many are shown with swords. The Withernsea chap wears his sword down the centre of his back perhaps suggesting this was how they were worn in life.
5. Hasholme Boat
The Hull and East Riding Museum includes one of the most important collections of ancient boats in the country. The earliest are the incredible Bronze Age examples from Ferriby excavated and researched over a lifetime by Edward Wright. One of the boats, called Ferriby 3 and dated to 1900BC, is the oldest sewn plank boat in Europe. Made of oak and sewn together with yew withies, these 16-metre craft are thought to have been capable of crossing the channel. The more recent Hasholme Boat (dated to c. 300 BC) by contrast is a simpler dug-out type and would have been used on the Humber and its tributaries rather than venturing further afield. The tree is estimated to have been about 800 years old when it was felled.
6. The Rudston Charioteer Mosaic
This well-preserved mosaic, dating from the fourth century AD, is one of a group from a Roman villa near Rudston in East Yorkshire. The charioteer is shown facing the viewer in a quadriga or four-horse chariot. The artist has removed the horses back legs to simplify the design. The mosaic from Horkstow in the main Roman Gallery features a cartoon-like scene including a wheel coming off. Chariots are a theme at the museum since the local Iron Age Parisi tribe are famous for their chariot burials. A reconstructed Iron Age chariot is featured in its Celtic World Gallery, complete with a model of the lady from Wetwang who was found buried in one.
7. Anglo-Saxon cremation urn from Sancton
These pots are covered in lumps, bosses and stamps. They were made specially for cremation burials and some contained miniature objects, such as tweezers and razors, which the person might have needed in the afterlife. It is thought that the decoration on the pots may well have been used like a language, identifying family groups or acting as symbols of belief, though they have not been deciphered.
8. Skerne Sword
A rare pattern-welded Viking age sword (10th century AD) found in the River Hull near a jetty or bridge near Skerne in 1982. It was actually found in its scabbard so was dropped complete into the water. How it got there can only be speculated on, with some suggesting it was dropped to get rid of incriminating evidence – and others claiming it a gift from the gods. It is no ordinary sword, with a pommel and guard decorated with inlaid silver and copper wires in geometric designs.
9. Child’s shoe
This little object highlights the incredible preservation of objects from Hull’s Old Town. It was found in 1978 during excavations in Chapel Lane Staithe, the area now covered by the Museum Quarter Gardens. Normally, leather objects would not survive but due to the waterlogged conditions, it gives a glimpse of the everyday world of people from centuries ago – in this case from the 14th century.
10. Henry’s Gun
This massive port piece was found just on the bank of the River Hull, near to where The Deep is today. It would have been one of several set up to protect the Old Harbour in the mouth of the River Hull. Dating to the reign of Henry VIII – hence the name – it illustrates the improvements made to the defences of Hull after the king visited the town.