There are approximately 20,000 individual artefacts in the Leeds archaeological collections, including ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman antiquities as well as native British, European and other overseas archaeological material. The historic core of the collections is composed of objects collected by the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society between the early 19th century and 1921.
These objects include sculpture from Greece and the Greek islands, marbles from Italy, and a diverse Egyptian collection including the mummy of the ancient Egyptian priest Nesyamun. The archaeological collection not only covers many thousands of years of history and prehistory but also represents a wide range of cultures and civilisations around the world. The archaeology collections are housed principally at The Discovery Centre where they can be viewed by appointment. Part of the Medieval collection is stored and displayed at Kirkstall Abbey.
There are two galleries showcasing archaeology in the Leeds City Museum. The archaeology of the Leeds area can be explored in The Leeds Story, and treasures of Egypt, Greece and Rome are on display in Ancient Worlds.
British and European Archaeology
The prehistoric collections include stone axe heads, flint arrowheads and other stone tools from the Yorkshire region and beyond, numerous bronze artefacts and local Bronze Age hoards, and objects from ‘Lake Dwelling’ sites on the Continent. The Philosophical and Literary Society acquired a collection of Palaeolithic stone tools from the northern French gravel deposits, which during the 19th century helped make the case for the antiquity of human beings. This is supplemented by well-documented stone tools from Kent and southern counties. The bulk of the collection is composed of lithic material, a good proportion of which remains unprovenanced.
Roman artefacts are very well-represented by the excavated finds from the Dalton Parlours Roman villa excavations, material from the Roman town of Aldborough, finds from Adel in north Leeds and a scattering of finds from other parts of the UK. These are supplemented by substantial local excavation archives from Wattle Syke and Rothwell Haigh. A large part of the collection is unprovenanced.
Early Medieval Collections
Material representative of the Anglo-Saxon and Viking periods is not numerous but it is highly significant. Fragments of the Leeds Parish Church crosses (9th-10th century), and The West Yorkshire Hoard (7th-11th century), are of national significance as well as exquisite craftsmanship. Other objects from the period include a number of unprovenanced Anglian cinerary urns and iron weapons, a high status brooch from a Jutish burial in Kent, and a group of carved gravestones found at Adel Church.
Finds from excavations at Kirkstall Abbey, the Cistercian monastery in west Leeds form the bulk of our holdings from the Middle Ages. However, we have material from a number of moated sites in the region and kiln firing experiments at Bodington Hall in Leeds from excavations in the 1960s. Much of the material is ceramic and fragmentary.
Ancient Egyptian Collections
The most important exhibit is the mummy of the ancient Egyptian priest Nesyamun dating from about 1100 BC. This is supported by a more miscellaneous collection of about 1,000 Egyptian artefacts representing both daily life and funerary practices. The collection is strongest in the Predynastic period (before 3100 BC) because of the Society’s subscription to Mr Randall-MacIver’s excavations at El-Amrah for the Egypt Exploration Society early in the 20th century.
A group of very high quality sculpture collected by people on the Grand Tour is the highlight of a more miscellaneous collection of ancient Greek artefacts which consists mostly of pottery. There is also a significant quantity of Cypriot ceramics and related material in the collection.
The service has also been fortunate to acquire a share of the finds from Lord Savile’s excavations at Lanuvium in Italy, which includes fragmentary material from an important Etruscan and Roman temple, Hellenistic style pottery and some fine fragments from an important statue group depicting cavalrymen and horses. This is supported by a more miscellaneous collection of Roman small finds from Ventimiglia and other sites collected in the 19th century.
Other overseas collections
There is a significant collection of material from the Near East (particularly from excavations at Jericho), North America and India, as well as a small number of objects from other countries outside Europe, collected during the 19th century.
The end-date for archaeological collecting is the closure of Kirkstall Abbey in 1539, after which material is the responsibility of the Social History department. However, in cases where later material has been acquired by archaeological methods, i.e. by excavation, field walking or metal detecting, it will usually still become part of the archaeology collection.
There is archaeological material within the World Cultures collection, notably ancient Chinese, South America (particularly Peruvian), and Native American material.