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Hidden Stories from the River Wear


Nov 21, 2021

In a new on-line exhibition Durham University students reveal the hidden stories of Durham’s past through artefacts discovered from the River Wear.

Hidden Stories from the River Wear, an on-line exhibition developed in collaboration with underwater archaeologist Gary Bankhead, launched on Friday 18th June 2021 at Durham University’s Museum of Archaeology. This exhibition explores the stories connected through objects discovered in the River Wear, evoking the social memory of Durham’s past 1000 years.

The exhibition was created by the students from the University’s MA Museum and Artefact Studies programme in collaboration with Durham underwater archaeologist Gary Bankhead and Durham University’s Museum of Archaeology. It will feature artefacts that have been found in the River Wear by Gary Bankhead. Ranging from artefacts dating from the Medieval period through to the Modern Age, the artefacts found in the River Wear bring to light the stories of individual people, romance and religion, toys lost through time, and artefacts that are weird and wonderful.

Visitors are given the opportunity to explore photographs of the artefacts close-up to better understand Durham’s history; gain insights into their watery past and the processes of underwater archaeology shown through videos created by Gary Bankhead. Hidden stories from the River Wear offers visitors a unique perspective on Durham’s history, connecting its audiences to the stories of Durham’s past and its people and allowing visitors a unique opportunity to explore and discover a ‘hidden’ Durham, which has never been seen before. “The River Wear has had a long and expansive history with the city of Durham. The deposition of artefacts found in this exhibition are particularly fascinating as these create a snapshot of daily life in Durham through the centuries. Based on the religious objects found in this exhibition It is not uncommon that over a millennia historical people would ritually deposit objects into the river as a form of religious practice.”

– Gemma Lewis; Curator of Durham Castle and Museum of Archaeology

“Gary Bankhead has recovered over 13,500 objects from the River Wear which created the perfect environment to preserve them as testimony to Durham’s past. These MA Museum and Artefact Studies students have created an absorbing exhibition showing how things from the past help us understand Durham’s different histories.”

– Mary M. Brooks; Museum Communication module convenor

“The Durham River Wear collection provides an important example of regionality in medieval and post-medieval material culture and constitutes a significant resource for national and international scholarship into medieval and post-medieval urban living. The collection tells the story of the lives of the people in cities and thus the value of such objects to local society and the wider international academic community, including other World Heritage Sites, is immense.”

– Gary Bankhead; Underwater Archaeologist

For more information, please visit: dur.ac.uk/archaeology.museum

Durham University’s Museum of Archaeology in its current form first emerged as a burgeoning museum and further grew out of the Department of Archaeology at Durham University. The link between the two remains a close one. However, the history of the Museum goes back much further, to the founding of the University and the first University Museum. At the current moment the Museum of Archaeology is closed but will be reopening soon. dur.ac.uk/archaeology.museum

For more information, please contact Curator Gemma Lewis at +44 191 3345691 or email: (gemma.lewis@durham.ac.uk).