RAMM has a rich collection of archaeology from Exeter and Devon. People have lived in the area for at least 350,000 years. They’ve left behind them traces of their dwellings, clothing, possessions and the food they ate. By finding some of these traces we can start to understand what their lives were like.  The museum is actively collecting archaeological finds from commercial work.

RAMM’s curator Tom provides a glimpse into the museum’s extensive archaeology collection.

For 150 years the museum has collected archaeology from the city of Exeter. Our collection includes finds from the Roman fortress and town, the important medieval Cathedral city, and the prosperous Tudor city.

The earliest archaeological discoveries were made by local gentlemen with an interest in the city’s history, including objects such as Roman samian pottery. Since the 1970s the collection has grown significantly with material discovered in excavations by professional archaeologists. Our museum is still collecting archaeological finds from the local area.

You can see many of our wonderful archaeological objects in RAMM’s Making History gallery. We also have a significant amount of material in our stores which is available for research and creative inspiration.

Highlights of the Exeter archaeology collection

  • Objects from the Roman legionary bath-house. This building was one of the finest Roman buildings in Britain, and also one of the first to be built from stone. Items in our collection include fragments of floor mosaic, wall paintings, building tiles, and window glass.
  • A large and important collection of medieval and post-medieval pottery, excavated from household rubbish pits in the city. The Exeter puzzle jug is one of the most extraordinary pieces of medieval pottery discovered in northern Europe.
The Exeter puzzle jug was discovered in pieces during building works in 1899 at the junction of Bear Street and South Street in Exeter

RAMM’s collection of Devon archaeology includes over 30,000 objects, which were discovered from the 19th century until the present day. It includes important collections of Prehistoric material from Dartmoor and East Devon, Roman military and civilian sites, and finds from medieval towns and rural settlements. You can discover highlights of the collection in RAMM’s Making History gallery. Or delve into the collection online.

Highlights of the Devon archaeology collection

  • The earliest stone tools made by humans – a remarkable collection of 350,000-year-old flint handaxes from the gravel pits at Broom near Axminster.
  • Huge collections of stone tools found by field-walking.
  • The mysterious wooden human figure from Kingsteignton.
This incredibly rare Iron Age figure was discovered by quarrymen near Kingsteignton in 1867. Radiocarbon dating found the figure to be 2,400 years old.
  • Important collections from barrow burials at Farway Down and Upton Pyne
  • Bronze tools and weapons buried in hoards by prehistoric people

Seaton Down Hoard

The Seaton Down Hoard arrived at RAMM on 20 July 2016. With 22,888 Roman coins, it is by far the largest coin hoard found in Devon and the third largest ever found in Britain.

The coins were found by a metal-detectorist in a field near Seaton. They are now one of the most important parts of the museum’s archaeology collection.

RAMM acquired the Seaton Down hoard with help from a generous donation by Patrick and Sally Long, Clinton Devon Estates, Thomson Reuters, Devon County Council and many members of the public. Patrick and Sally Long were particularly keen that the coins are preserved for inspiration and wonder of children.

The conservation and display of the hoard and a project to engage with East Devon schools and communities was funded by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund with further public donations.

The hoard is now on display in RAMM’s Making History gallery. Read more in the Collections Story on the hoard.

Researching the local archaeology collection

Are you interested in using our collections for research? We welcome research into the archaeology collection (including objects, paper and photographic records) by students, local history or community groups, and interested individuals. Please contact us if you have an enquiry about this collection, or to make an appointment to visit objects and archives in store.

RAMM’s local history collection contains objects from the social and industrial history of Exeter and the surrounding area. The varied collection of objects and paper documents reflect everyday life for local residents.

Many architectural fragments of historical interest have been collected by RAMM over the last 150 years. They include an important collection of fragments from Tudor buildings in Exeter, and the nationally-important Hems collection of medieval woodwork.

Highlights of the architectural fragments collection

  • The Hems collection of woodwork. An outstanding collection of nearly 500 pieces of medieval woodwork, collected by the Exeter master sculptor Harry Hems. The pieces were originally displayed in Hems’ workshop to inspire his craftsmen in their world-renowned work. These items now form one of the best collections of Medieval woodwork in Britain.
  • Fragments from historic buildings in Exeter. Many of these items were salvaged during renovation or demolition of historic buildings in the post-war redevelopment of the city. The collection includes fragments of woodwork and plasterwork from the city’s Tudor houses, and fragments and casts of stonework from the Cathedral and the Guildhall.

The county of Devon is a rich historical landscape which interacts with modern-day use and development. RAMM is actively acquiring selected archaeological material from commercial and research projects within our specified geographical area.

Archaeological archives

We aim to work closely with commercial archaeologists, local authority planners and other relevant people to preserve important newly-discovered archaeological finds. In 2014 we revised our Archaeological Archives guidance and you can find a copy on the reports, plans and policies page.

Please note our archives process is different to many other museums. When preparing the Written Scheme of Investigation please contact us to obtain a Reference number. During the project we encourage on-going conversation about the content of the finds archive. We also need to be involved when making finds selection and retention decisions.

Conservation of finds

RAMM offers preliminary conservation advice for fragile or delicate artefacts discovered during commercial archaeology projects. We may also be able to offer the treatment of artefacts on a commercial basis. Please contact us for further details.

The 18th and 19th centuries were a heyday for collecting foreign archaeology. People were fascinated by the mystery and glamour of the ancient world, and they were inspired to collect pieces of history. Some collectors were tourists, military officers or colonial officials who picked up antiquities on their travels. Other people lived in Devon and bought objects from dealers and auction houses. Private collections such as these were donated to the museum and form the core of the collection. You can see objects from this collection in RAMM’s Ancient Worlds gallery.

Our collection of overseas archaeology contains a fascinating variety of objects from the great civilisations of Western Asia, Greece, Rome, Egypt and Cyprus.

Helen Hartstein, RAMM’s Audience Development Lead, talks about why she loves the Corinthian helmet.

Classical archaeology

RAMM’s classical archaeology collection includes finds from Greece, Cyprus and Italy, including Etruscan and Roman objects. Some of these items were used by people in their everyday lives. Other objects were more special and were used in religious services, or buried with loved ones. The collection includes objects made from pottery, stone, glass and metal.

You can see wonderful objects from this collection in RAMM’s Ancient Worlds gallery or browse them online.

The Montague collection

The largest part of RAMM’s collection was donated by Lt. Colonel Leopold Montague. He was passionate about collecting archaeological objects, and gathered together over 800 antiquities. The majority of his objects are from Greece, Rome, Egypt and Western Asia. One of his finest pieces is a Greek hoplite helmet found in the Straits of Euboea in 1870. Montague published many objects in the magazine ‘Bazaar’ to share his discoveries with other interested people.  He was also passionate about local archaeology, and organised some of the first scientific archaeological excavations in Devon and Exeter.

Objects from Cyprus

RAMM has a fine collection of Cypriot antiquities. Nearly 200 of these were collected by Claude Delaval Cobham, who was a Commissioner for Cyprus. Most of the objects were grave goods from tombs, or offerings at sites called ‘sanctuaries’. The location of Cyprus was ideally placed for trade with the Greek and Roman civilisations. But it was also ideally placed for invasion. The objects in RAMM’s collection show the people of Cyprus were influenced by Egypt, Western Asia, Greece and Rome.

Egyptian archaeology

RAMM’s collection contains around 600 objects from ancient Egypt, dating from the Predynastic to Medieval eras. Many of these objects were collected by Victorian and Edwardian people who were fascinated with the mystery and glamour of Ancient Egypt. Some collectors bought items when they worked or travelled in the country. Other people stayed in Britain and purchased items from dealers or at auction. The museum isn’t actively collecting ancient Egyptian material, so this collection represents a heyday of Victorian exploration of the world.

Come and explore daily life in ancient Egypt in our Ancient Worlds gallery, and explore death and the afterlife in the Egyptian Tomb gallery.

Highlights of the Egyptian archaeology collection

  • The mummy, coffin and cartonnage of Shep-en-Mut.
  • A fragment of hieroglyphic text from the tomb of Khaemhat in Thebes.
  • A silver-coated breastplate from a mummy, collected by Giovanni Belzoni – a circus-man who became a pioneering explorer and archaeologist.
  • Grave goods from Saft-el-Henna, excavated by Flinders Petrie in 1906.
  • Brightly-coloured pieces of Coptic textiles, excavated by Rev. Greville Chester.

Mesopotamian archaeology

RAMM’s collection of archaeology from Mesopotamia is small but contains some fascinating objects. These include a marble inscription from the royal site at Nineveh, the world’s earliest form of writing is preserved on our cuneiform tablets, and cylinder seals show images of gods and mythical scenes.

Corkill collection

The museum’s Mesopotamian collection is largely based on the collection of one man, Dr Norman Lace Corkill. He worked as a doctor in Iraq, the Sudan and Saudi Arabia. While in Iraq he met the famous archaeologist Max Mallowan and his wife Agatha Christie, and this meeting developed his interest in archaeology. Dr Corkill gave his collection of Sumerian and Sudanese antiquities to RAMM in 1961.