|Director||Janet Barnes, York Museums Trust|
The Museum was founded by the Yorkshire Philosophical Society to accommodate their geological and archaeological collections, and was originally housed in Ousegate, York, until the site became too small. In 1828 the society received by royal grant, ten acres (0.040 km²) of land formerly belonging to St Mary’s Abbey for the purposes of building a new museum. The main building of the museum is called the Yorkshire Museum; it was designed by William Wilkins in a Greek Revival style and is a Grade I listed building. It was officially opened in February 1830, which makes it one of the longest established museums in England. A condition of the royal grant was that the land surrounding the museum building should be a botanic gardens and one was created in the 1830s. The botanic gardens are now known as the Museum Gardens. On 26 September 1831 the inaugural meeting of the British Association for the Advancement of Science was held at the Yorkshire Museum.
In 1960, the Museum and Museum Gardens were given in trust to York City Council, the successor of which, the City of York Council, set up the York Museums Trust in 2002 to manage the York Castle Museum, York Art Gallery, the Yorkshire Museum and the Museum Gardens.
The museum closed in November 2009 for a major refurbishment and reopened on Yorkshire Day on 1 August 2010. The £2 million scheme was largely carried out by the museum's own staff, who restructured and redecorated the interior of the building. The result is three major sections: "Eboracum: Face to Face with the Romans", "York: The Power and the Glory" (Anglian, Viking and Medieval York), and "Extinct: A way of life" a "fun, family-oriented gallery" featuring fossils, skeletons and animal specimens. There will also be a "History of York" section and "Enquiry - The Learning Level".
The four permanent collections at the museum all have English designated collection status, which means they are "pre-eminent collections of national and international importance". The collection began in the 1820s with the collection of animal bones and fossils from Kirkdale Cave.
The biology collection contains 200,000 specimens, including both fauna and flora, with the majority of the collection made up of insects. There are two stuffed specimens of the extinct great auk, an almost complete skeleton of an extinct moa and a large collection of specimens from the Yorkshire region including the remains of elephants, cave bears and hyena from Kirkdale Cave dated to the Quaternary period, around 125,000 years.
The geology collection contains over 112,500 specimens of rocks, minerals and fossils. Fossils make up the majority of the collection numbering over 100,000 samples, and include important specimens from the Carboniferous, Mesozoic and Tertiary periods.
The archaeology collection has close to a million objects that date from around 500,000 BC to the 20th century.
Most of the objects from the Roman, Anglo Scandinavian and Medieval periods are from the York and Yorkshire area. Following the 2010 refit of the Museum, the first gallery displays parts of the Roman collection focusing on objects from Eboracum (Roman York). A statue of the Roman God Mars is prominently displayed, and there is an interactive display describing the lives of some of the Romans whose remain have been found in York. The final record of the famous lost Roman legion, the ninth legion is on display as part of the Roman gallery. The stone inscription, which has been dated to Trajan's twelfth year as emperor, between 10 December 107 and 9 December 108, commemorates the legion's rebuilding in stone of the south-eastern wall of Eboracum's legionary fortress. The BBC reports that "Experts have described it the finest example of Romano British inscription in existence.".
The museum also has a collection of studio pottery consisting of over 3,500 pieces that represent more than 500 potters. These were bequeathed to the Yorkshire Museum by Wakefield librarian Bill Ismay in 2001. The collection can be seen in York Art Gallery.
- The Coppergate Helmet, discovered in York in 1982
- The Ormside Bowl, found in Cumbria; an intricate example of work by an Anglian silversmith.
- The Middleham Jewel, discovered in 1992 by Ted Seaton using a metal detector at Middleham, North Yorkshire. The jewel is a gold, diamond-shaped pendant with a blue sapphire at the top. The pendant, dating from c. 1460, is engraved with a picture of the Christian Trinity on the front, and one of the Nativity of Jesus on the back.
- The Cawood sword
- The Medieval Shrine of Saint William of York
The front of the Middleham Jewel showing the Crucifixion of Jesus
The museum has Finds Days in the main Yorkshire Museum building where members of the national British Portable Antiquities Scheme and museum staff will identify objects brought to them by members of the public. The information is also recorded to help build up a more complete archaeological picture of the past.
Vale of York Viking hoard
A Viking 10th century niello silver-gilt pot full of coins was found near Harrogate in 2007. It was valued at £1,082,000 and acquired jointly by the British Museum and the York Museums Trust. After being cleaned by the conservation department of the British Museum it was displayed at the Yorkshire Museum from 17 September 2009 for a period of six weeks before moving to the British Museum. It is planned that the hoard will be displayed in the museum again when it reopens after refurbishment on 1 August 2010.
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