Museum treasures: Vast collection of rare and precious items revealed


Stashed away underground beneath a popular museum lies a vast collection of rare and precious items.

From hippo skulls to extinct birds, stuffed lions to poison spears, the Natural History Society of Northumbria's collection is one of the best in the world.

With more than half a million items kept in storage under the Discovery Museum in Newcastle, cataloguing the huge assortment is a lifetime's work.

The collection dates back to the mid-18th century and includes some items that are seen as priceless because of their rarity.

Dan Gordon, Keeper of Biology at Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, said: "The oldest parts of the collection date from the 18th century and were the private collection of a local aristocrat called Marmaduke Tunstall.

"Over the years it was passed on and came into the possession of a local society and it's important for a number of reasons, one being the very old and valuable items.

"We have records for half a million objects but there may well be more, and cataloguing them all is a lifetime's work. We are still discovering new things in the collection."

One of the rarest items is a juvenile Great Auk, a flightless bird that is now extinct but which was once commonplace in Great Britain.

Mr Gordon said: "The Great Auk is one of the oldest objects and it dates back to the 1750s. There are very few of these still in existence and most of them are adults.

"Most of the preserved ones out there came from the time when they were already rare but our one is a juvenile.

"It's either the only one in the world, or one of two, but it's definitely the youngest."

As the cataloguing continues, staff at the museum hope to offer tours to the public so they can be shown around the underground collection.