Treasure is a cut above at museum; Make no bones about this intriguing exhibition.
AMONG scores of historical treasures and oddities in an upcoming Tyneside exhibition is one item which is a cut above the rest.
A working model of a guillotine made from meat bones by an 18th Century Napoleonic French prisoner will be part of an event to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle Upon Tyne.
The exhibition, backed by a PS30,000 award by the Heritage Lottery Fund, opens at the Great North Museum in Newcastle on February 16 and runs until April 30.
It will draw on the society's extensive and often bizarre collections built up over two centuries.
The guillotine, complete with headless prisoner and a patrolling guard, is made from sheep and pigeon bones.
Lindsay Allason-Jones, society president, said: "The model guillotine comes from the Napoleonic wars period when many French soldiers, captured by the British, ended up in British jails due to the decree by the French Revolutionary Government in 1793-4 that they would no longer pay ransom to retrieve prisoners.
"British jails soon filled up with these prisoners. They had a miserable time and many started to make toys and models out of scrap animal bones, most likely food waste such as mutton bones, both to alleviate their boredom and make money to buy themselves a few comforts.
"Most of the larger models were of ships but working guillotines were also popular, although much rarer. We have no idea how and when the society acquired this one."
The exhibition will feature a late 8th or early 9th Century stone from Falstone in Northumberland carved with the same inscription in Latin and Old English.
It was meant as a memorial to a man called Robert by his nephew and was donated to the society in 1814 by the Rev James Wood, Presbyterian minister of Falstone.
A 16th Century helmet of the type probably worn at the Battle of Flodden will be on show along with a bank note from the Surtees, Burdon and Brandling bank which had branches in Berwick, Alnwick and Newcastle but collapsed in 1803.
Also featuring is a North East poll book from the late 18th Century showing who voted for various Parliamentary candidates, and a book of compensation claims for damage suffered in a flood of 1771 in Northumberland in which local vicars verified submissions.
Treasures on display include the gold Aemilia finger ring found at Corbridge which is possibly the oldest Christian object from Roman Britain, and the Aesica brooch from Great Chesters in Northumberland from the late 1st - early 2nd Century, described in the 19th Century as "the most fantastically beautiful creation that has come to us from antiquity".
Lindsay said: "There are some amazing items in our collections and deciding what to include in the exhibition has been really hard.
"When the society began in 1813 it was the only institution collecting archaeological and historical artefacts in the north of England. Consequently many world-class items were acquired."
The collections are best-known for their Roman material, which can be seen on permanent display at the Great North Museum.
Dr Sarah Glynn, manager of the museum, said: "We are honoured to care for some of the society's most treasured Roman items.
"However, the Tales of Antiquarian Adventure exhibition will show visitors some of the more unusual items in the society's collection which have not been seen for many years."
PIECES OF HISTORY BEFORE OUR EYES OTHER items on show will include: ? A man trap: Walking around archaeological sites in the early years was hazardous due to man traps being laid to catch poachers. ? The Eltringham flint: When the flint blade was found in Northumberland in 1994, it confirmed that there was human activity in the county as early as 11,000 years ago. ?? Bone saw, amputation knife, trephine drill and bit: This is part of a larger collection of tools from The Company of Barber Surgeons and Tallow Chandlers of Newcastle upon Tyne.
. ? Violin tune book written by Henry Atkinson in 1694: Atkinson was a native of Northumberland and more than 200 tunes are recorded including two versions of Jingling Geordie.
. ?Watchman's rattles: After 1763 the streets of Newcastle were lit by oil lamps and patrolled by privately paid watchmen who would use these rattles to raise the alarm if a crime had taken place.
. ? Polished prehistoric stone axe heads: From Framlington and Hexham in Northumberland, Witton Gilbert in Co Durham and Throckley Fell, Newcastle.
. ? Glove belonging to the Third Earl of Derwentwater: A prominent Jacobite who lived at Dilston in Northumberland, he was convicted of high treason and executed in 1716. . ? Ewart Park sword, 950 - 800 BC: One of a small hoard of swords found at Ewart Park, near Wooler, they were the first Bronze Age swords to be acquired by the society.
SKELETON KEY Tyne and Wear Museums project co-ordinator Gill Scott with the bone model guillotine