Monkey 'Spy' Bone That Never Was - Now On Show At Curiosity Shop

By Alastair Smith | 07 July 2005
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Shows a photo of a man holding out a long bone.

Peter Rowley Conwy, senior lecturer of Zooarchaeology at Durham University examines the much-talked about bone.

A mysterious "monkey bone" which offers a link to Hartlepool's prehistoric past is now on show at a travelling museum of curiosities in the town.

Rumours began to circulate that the bone found on the beach at Seaton Carew belonged to a monkey who, as legend has it, washed up in Hartlepool during the Napoleonic war and was executed as a French spy.

Experts from the Department of Archaeology at the University of Durham and Tees Archaeology confirmed that the 30-cm long bone was in fact from a red deer.

"We could tell straight away that the bone was ancient. It has a tell-tale black surface which suggests that it has come from a prehistoric peat bed,” said Peter Rowe of Tees Archaeology.

"It's also partly fossilised, which is something we don't often see - it could well be one of the oldest artefacts ever to be found on Teesside."

Shows a photo of a man holding out a long bone.

For a while rumour was rife - but archaeologists settled the argument.

It is thought that the deer may have lived in the submerged forest near Hartlepool at least 6,000 years ago - a time when Britain was still part of mainland Europe and you could have walked from Hartlepool to Copenhagen.

Hartlepool Museums Service has acquired the bone and it is now on display at The Curiosity Shop in Middleton Grange Shopping Centre alongside other unusual objects including life-size Doctor Who models and a giant squid.

Over 50,000 visited The Curiosity Shop in Redcar and Stockton where they saw a furry fish, a hippopotamus skull and the world's smallest cat and dog.

The mobile institution celebrates the tradition of 'cabinets of curiosity' - collections of rare and unusual items, often assembled by nobility and wealthy merchants in the 18th and 19th centuries.

A desire to display these collections to the public led to the birth of museums as we know them today, though the practice of collecting natural history specimens began among doctors and pharmacists in the 16th century.

Shows a photo of a man and a young girl looking at an exhibit at the Curiosity Shop.

The Curiosity Shop is now on its third venue and its popularity has so far exceeded all expectations.

Television personality Johnny Ball opened the museum in Hartlepool at the weekend.

Mark Simmons, Audience Development Manager for Hartlepool Arts, Museums and Events Service said: "One of the first sights that usually confronts visitors to The Curiosity Shop is a specially-produced movie presentation by Johnny Ball, but we are delighted to welcome him in person to the shop's official opening in Hartlepool.

"The number of visitors to The Curiosity Shop initiative has already exceeded our wildest dreams, and we expect it to be just as popular during its stay in Hartlepool."

The Curiosity Shop has also helped to redevelop town centres across the region by re-fitting disused retail units, often putting in electricity and new plumbing which has led to the Redcar shop being occupied after the museum moved on.

When the museum moves between venues it travels in a large articulated lorry and is assembled piece by piece like a giant jigsaw often confusing shoppers who see a polar bear being unloaded in the town centre.

Shows a photo of a crowd of people at the Curiosity Shop.

Museums from across the region have contributed unusual objects to the travelling museum.

"The Curiosity Shop is like a bizarre blend of Changing Rooms and Antiques Roadshow," explained Mark Simmons, Audience Development Manager for Hartlepool Arts and Museums.

"We take an empty shop in a town centre and in less than two weeks turn it into an exciting place where you can see some of the unusual and wonderful objects from our local museum."

It is staffed by an experienced retail manager and is run more like a shop than a museum to encourage those who would rather browse round a shopping centre than an exhibition.

The Curiosity Shop is funded by Renaissance in the Regions, a Government funded scheme to create new ways for people to enjoy their local museums.

Led by Hartlepool Museums Service, the project is a partnership between 12 of the region's museums and galleries including Kirkleatham Museum, RNLI Zetland Lifeboat Museum, Billingham Art Gallery, Green Dragon Yard Museum, Preston Hall Museum, Darlington Railway Centre and Museum, Hartlepool Art Gallery and the Museum of Hartlepool, Guisborough Museum, the Ironstone Mining Museum, the Captain Cook Birthplace Museum, and the Dorman Museum.

Admission to The Curiosity Shop is free and it's open in Middleton Grange Shopping Centre, Hartlepool six days a week from 9.30am to 5.00pm until August 29. From there it will move on to Darlington and Middlesbrough.

Shows the Renaissance in the Regions logo

Alastair Smith is the 24 Hour Museum Renaissance Student Writer in the North East region. Renaissance is the groundbreaking initiative to transform England's regional museums, led by MLA, the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council.

Shows the Renaissance in the Regions logo.
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