Durham University Oriental Museum

Oriental Museum
Location in Durham
Established 1960
Location Durham, County Durham, United Kingdom
Coordinates 54°45′50″N 1°34′53″W / 54.764°N 1.5815°W / 54.764; -1.5815
Visitors 19,263 (2009/10)[1]
Curator Craig Barclay
Website http://www.dur.ac.uk/oriental.museum/

The Oriental Museum, formerly the Gulbenkian Museum of Oriental Art and Archaeology, is a museum of the University of Durham in England. The museum has a collection of more than 23,500 Chinese, Egyptian, Korean, Japanese and other far east and Asian artefacts. The museum was founded due to the need to house an increasing collection of Oriental artefacts used by the School of Oriental Studies, that were previously housed around the University. The Museum's Chinese and Egyptian collections are 'designated' by the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council (MLA) as being of "national and international importance".[2]


Founded in 1960 to support the University's teaching and research in the Oriental School the collections of the Museum have largely grown through donations and purchases to support cultural studies alongside the teaching of languages. The Museum's initial collection arose from the sale of the antiquities of Algernon Percy, 4th Duke of Northumberland from Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. The collection arrived in late 1950 being initially housed in two rooms in Hatfield College. After a fire broke out in 1956 one of the rooms was returned to the college and much of the collection was placed in storage.[3]

The establishment of Raymond Dawson as lecturer in Indian Religions and Philosophy in 1952 led to the collection expanding into the Far East. Initially Dawson organised a series of Chinese exhibitions from loaned items before the foundation of the Chinese collection came about from Harold MacDonald's promotion to High Commissioner of India in 1955. Having amassed a large collection of gifts and antiquities, from his prior role as Commissioner General for South East Asia, MacDonald was reluctant to relocate his collection from Singapore to India. Subsequently Dawson was contacted by MacDonald and an initial five year loan of the collection was agreed.[3]

The growth of the School led to the School moving to Elvet Hill House, where the current location of the museum is set, on the south edge of Durham. With part of the collection still held at various sites and the success of the initial exhibitions potential donors were sought for the formal establishment of a museum. A successful bid was made to the Gulbenkian Foundation in 1957 with a £60,000 donation to fund the initial stage of the museum which was renamed the Gulbenkian Museum of Oriental Art and Archaeology in honour of the donation. The museum was completed in 1959 with the collections being transferred along with the bequest of 3,000 Chinese objects from Sir Charles Hardinge to the new museum by the end of the year. After the creation of the displays the museum was officially opened in May 1960 with a three-day week initially attracting c.100 visitors a week.[4]

In October 1969 a fragment of Moon rock was sent to the University's department of Earth Sciences. Prior to undergoing analysis the rock was displayed at the museum for two days attracting over 12,000 people resulting in the Museum opening until 8:30pm to accommodate the visitors.[4]

During 2008 the Egyptian and Chinese art and archaeology collections were granted designated status along with 150 pieces from the collections touring Japan for nine months in the Oriental Art from Durham University and Eton College exhibition attracting over 185,000 visitors.[3]


In March 2012, a national award, "The Bronze Hear by Right", was presented to the museum by the National Youth Agency.[5]


Subsequent to the Moon rock display, funding was sought to complete the second stage of the museum, however, such funds were not forthcoming and in the 1980s a competition was launched to add additional side galleries in lieu of the second stage. In 2000 further funding was secured to create a mezzanine floor to house additional artifacts from the collections.[3]

In 2012, Culture Minister Ed Vaizey announced funding from the DCMS/Wolfson Foundation Museums and Galleries Improvement Fund.The grant, totally more than £80,000 will be used to help fund new galleries dedicated to Japan and Korea.[6]



  1. "Heritage Collections Annual Report 2009/10" (PDF). Durham University. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  2. 1 2 3 4 "History". Durham University. Retrieved 7 November 2010.
  3. 1 2 Barclay, Craig (2010). Treasures of the Oriental Museum Durham University. Third Millenium Publishing Limited. ISBN 978-1-906507-35-0.
  4. Oriental Museum achieves national award
  5. Museum wins funding for new Japan and Korea galleries
  6. "Chinese". Durham University. Retrieved 7 November 2010.
  7. "Korea". Durham University. Retrieved 7 November 2010.
  8. "Indian". Durham University. Retrieved 7 November 2010.
  9. "Japanese". Durham University. Retrieved 7 November 2010.
  10. "South East Asia". Durham University. Retrieved 7 November 2010.
  11. "Near & Middle East". Durham University. Retrieved 7 November 2010.
  12. "The Oriental Museum". Association of Curators for Collections of Egypts and Sudan. Retrieved 7 November 2010.
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