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Archaeology: Special Collections


The Sphinx, from drawing by David Roberts

 The Library’s Special Collections provide a rich resource for Archaeology at the University of Manchester.

They contain various types of material heritage that give you the opportunity to study past humanity from diverse cultures.

This guide will identify collection strengths and help you access relevant material.

Collection strengths

Studying in the John Rylands Library

The Library’s collection of manuscripts, objects, photographs, drawings, rare books, maps and archives are rich in material culture and documentary sources. In subject matter they range from the archaeology of Stonehenge to that of the Mediterranean, the Near East, Egypt, Africa and Australia.

They span different periods from the ancient world to the transformations wrought by the Industrial Revolution and address themes of global importance, such as religion, belief, identity, technology and the environment. They have particular strengths in the following areas:

  • Babylonian and Assyrian culture
  • Ancient Egyptian culture and Egyptology
  • Neolithic Britain and antiquarianism
  • Photography and Archaeology

Babylonian and Assyrian culture

John Rylands Library

The culture of the Babylonians and the Assyrians is represented by a collection of over 1,100 Sumerian and Akkadian clay tablets in cuneiform script. Most of the Library’s tablets come from the great temples of Drehem and Umma and date from the Ur III dynasty (22nd to 21st centuries BCE), but there are also First Babylonian Dynasty fragments (20thto17th centuries BCE) and later Babylonian and Assyrian pieces.

They comprise royal inscriptions, letters, economic, administrative and agricultural documents and literary texts.

Ancient Egyptian Culture and Egyptology

The culture of the Ancient Egyptians is represented by a substantial collection of papyri and ostraca in hieroglyphic, hieratic and demotic scripts. They date from the 14th century BCE to the 2nd century CE. Some take the form of funerary texts including fragments from the Book of the Dead as well as legal documents

Egyptian Camel

The collections also contain papers, archives and books relating to the study of Ancient Egypt. These include the professional and personal papers of the Egyptologist Dr Eve Reymond (1923-1986), who was based at the University of Manchester as well as the archive of Manchester Egyptian and Oriental Society (c.1906-1965). The society was closely associated with the University of Manchester and was formed in 1912 by the merger of the Manchester Egyptian Association and the Manchester Oriental Society.

The Library’s rare book collections also include first and early editions of David Roberts’s Egypt and Nubia (1846–49) and The Holy Land (1855) and Francis Frith’s Egypt and Palestine (1858–63), which was one of the first books to be illustrated with photographs.

Neolithic Britain and Antiquarianism

Speed's Map

The Library’s collection of rare books includes first and early editions of works by eminent English antiquaries including John Aubrey’s The Natural History and Antiquities of the County of Surrey (1676), William Stukeley’s Stonehenge: a Temple Restored by the British Druids (1743) and Edward King’s Munimenta antiqua (1799-1807).

Virtually every county in England is represented in the map collections, including William Camden’s Britannia (1610), as well maps produced by Saxton, Norden, Speed, Blau, Bowen and other eminent cartographers.

Our collection of manuscripts and archives also contains a set of journals compiled by the 18th century antiquarian Dorothy Richardson (born 1748). They describe her travels around the British Isles and record the details of antiquarian sites, country houses, museums, manufactures, geological features and landscapes that she visited. Her accounts are illustrated with numerous pen-and-ink drawings.

Photography and Archaeology

Since its invention in 1839 archaeologists have used photography as a tool to record many aspects of their practice as well as to document excavations, objects and antiquities. The Library holds significant collections of photography that are relevant to the discipline including the Colonial Photography Collections, the Captain J. Douglas Kennedy Collection and the E. Mitford Abraham Windmills and Watermills Collection

The Colonial Photography Collections. The largest of these collections was created by the collector curator, and ethnographer, Henry Ling Roth (1855-1925). It comprises a substantial photographic record of his wide-ranging interests in the archaeology and material culture of the indigenous people of Australia, Africa, the Caribbean and South East Asia. Ling Roth published studies of the peoples of Borneo and Benin, but is best known for The Tasmanian Aborigines (1890). His papers, including correspondence and notebooks are also preserved in the collection of manuscripts and archives. Some of the objects he collected are held in the Manchester Museum.

From 1891-1896 Captain J. Douglas Kennedy (1845-1897) compiled and created a collection of photography to capture his engagement with the archaeology of Rome. The J. Douglas Kennedy Collection includes hundreds of Kennedy’s own photographs as well as two albums of commercially produced photographs. Kennedy, who was a member of the British and American Archaeological Society of Rome, carefully recorded the times, dates and location of the sites he visited. The collection also contains a map and notes relating to his photographic expeditions and field visits

Relevant to industrial archaeologists the E.Mitford Abraham Windmills and Watermills Collection comprises forty-seven photography albums which contain 1,200 documentary views of the mills Edward Mitford Abraham (1883–1959) visited during the first half of the 20th century (1900-52). These relate to Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Cumberland, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, Westmorland and Yorkshire. The collection also contains negatives, cuttings from newspapers and periodicals.

What are Special Collections?

What are Special Collections?

The University of Manchester Library holds one of the finest collections of rare books, manuscripts, archives and visual collections in the world. These collections are mainly concentrated in the magnificent building on Deansgate, The John Rylands Research Institute and Library, in the centre of Manchester. They are also housed in the Main Library on the University campus and at the Ahmed Iqbal Ullah RACE Centre, in Manchester Central Library. This resource introduces the different types of materials found in Special Collections and explains how they can be used to support your studies. For general tips on accessing digital and physical collections and visiting our reading room please look at our other Medium resources.

Using Special Collections

You are welcome to make use of Special Collections in your learning and research.

Due to the special nature of the material, we provide access in a controlled environment and there are some restrictions on use and access, particularly for fragile material or modern archives which may contain sensitive data.

Please read our guidance pages on the web for details.


Search Special Collections

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