Museum Stories: Hunterian Museum Glasgow

Archaeology, mathematics, medicine, navigation, art, geology, biology, music: these are just a few of the subjects covered in the collections of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum.
Musuem Glasgow Scotland Hunterian

There are skeletons of dinosaurs, and pottery vessels unearthed by archaeology expeditions in eastern lands. There is a coin from Cleopatra’s Egypt, with her image upon it. You can see medical specimens which Doctor William Hunter, whose gift of his collections founded the museum, used for research in his practice, and for teaching — in the 1700s.
Hunterian Museum Glasgow Scotland pots

The Hunterian is Scotland’s oldest public museum. In a city filled with museum collections, at times it seems to be less well known than some of its peers. It is easy enough to visit, though it might take the casual traveler a bit of time to locate it. The Hunterian is in the main building of the University of Glasgow campus in the west end of the city.

Though the museum’s collections are of great interest and use to faculty, students, and researchers, you’ve no need to have academic background or university connections to visit the museum or to appreciate the well designed layout of the materials. The Hunterian is open to the public, and admission, with the exception of occasional special exhibits, is free.

Wandering around and just following what attracts you can be rewarding. If you are in the medical or health professions you might find the section with medical specimens and instruments, on the second floor, especially of interest.

HUnterian Museum Glasgow Scotland William Hunter sign

Hunterian Museum Univ Glasgow Scotland skeleton

Perhaps travel or safety on the seas interests you? Then you will want to pay special attention to the area devoted to the work of Lord Kelvin, who taught at Glasgow for fifty three years. He is widely known for his contributions to communications, physics, and the system of temperature named after him. Glasgow remembers Lord Kelvin for his work on tide gauges and for developing a compass that most of the world’s navies found of practical use; his nephew’s death at sea guided the scientist’s lifelong interest in helping those on the waters and you may see things he used and invented in this quest. Kelvin was also an innovative teacher, often bringing objects to his lectures to illustrate his points, and you will see these, too, as well as a few of the great scientist’s personal effects.

HUnterian Museum Glasgow Scotland music

Speaking of the oceans, there’s the Bearsden shark, which was found by a man out walking his dog in north Glasgow one day. This skeleton is 330 million years old. Scientists are still speculating about how it lived and what they can learn from this artifact. Scholars at the Hunterian are active in research concerning Scotland’s dinosaurs and their work attracts bequests. One such is a large collection of skeletons of plesiosaurs and other amphibious dinosaurs, some of which are well and dramatically displayed in the museum’s main hall. You can also see Scotland’s first dinosaur footprint, discovered in 1982.

Material on what people have been doing in Scotland across the centuries forms a strong part of the Hunterian collections as well. There’s material on prehistoric Scotland and Scotland in medieval times, as well as items representing cultures of of farther away places including the near east and Pacific ocean regions. There are collections of coins, material on birds, a section telling about the life of Doctor William Hunter and his wide ranging collecting tastes among the other things to explore.

HUnterain Museum Univ of Glasgow Antonine Wall

Another highlight of the Hunterian collections is material to do with the Antonine wall, which was constructed by soldiers of the Roman Empire at the mid second century of the Christian Era. These soldiers, their work, and the communities which grew up around them, come vividly to life in the Hunterian area on the Antonine wall. The wall is one of Scotland’s internationally recognized World Heritage sites.

There is much more to explore at this location of the Hunterian museum. Physically it is not a large place and the displays are well designed to tell stories. Give yourself time to take it in, though; there is a lot going on. More than a lot, really: the Hunterian has other collections in or near the University of Glasgow campus as well, among them a zoology museum, one with more medical exhibits, an art gallery, and a recently opened research facility.

Photographs by Kerry Dexter. Thank you for respecting copyright.

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