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New exhibition reveals Stories from the River Wear


A new exhibition showcasing fascinating underwater finds from the River Wear opens at the Museum of Archaeology, Durham University, next week.

Stories from the River: Exploring the history of Durham opens at the museum in Palace Green Library on Monday 27 February and features the finds of underwater archaeologist Gary Bankhead.

It explores the stories connected through objects discovered in the River Wear, evoking the social history of Durham’s past 800-years.

The family-friendly exhibition features around 200 of the 13,500 artefacts that have been found in the river by Gary since 2008.

Ranging from objects 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, pilgrimage, daily life, toys, industry and trade.

Everything from Homer Simpson to rare Medieval pilgrim badges feature in the exhibition.

Although many objects from the River Wear Assemblage have been on display in the Museum since 2013, this is the first time they have had their own exhibition.

Stories from the River Wear offers visitors a unique perspective on life along the city’s riverbank, showing objects that belonged to the everyday people of Durham.

It charts the history of the cloth makers who washed their wool in the river and of the peddlers who once sold their wares on Elvet Bridge during a busy market day in Medieval Durham.

Originally planned for 2020, the exhibition was re-created to be displayed online during the pandemic, by Durham University students studying MA Museum and Artefacts.

It has now been re-interpreted to create this new physical exhibition.


Gemma Lewis, Curator of the Museum of Archaeology at Durham University, said; “This exhibition is particularly interesting, because in some cases the objects match the historical archive, but in others, they provide evidence of truly personal stories that haven’t been recorded in the historical documents.”

Co-curator Gary Bankhead is delighted with the level of local interest in his finds and is pleased that the collection is going on public display.

He said: “I always get asked which is my favourite find, and although I’m really excited by the late-Medieval pilgrim badges and souvenirs – as they are rare finds for the north-east of England – any object that bears the names of our ancestors are equally special as there’s always an opportunity to identify them in Durham University’s extensive archives and special collections.

“For me the collection means so much, especially as students and researchers will continue to investigate the objects for years to come.”

For more information about the exhibition and the Museum of Archaeology, please visit: dur.ac.uk/archaeology.museum

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