The Antiquaries Journal

Research Article

Collecting the Past, Constructing Identity: The Antiquarian John Mortimer and The Driffield Museum of Antiquities and Geological Specimens

Melanie Gilesa1

a1 Archaeology, School of Arts, Histories and Cultures, University of Manchester, Humanities Bridgeford Street Building, Oxford Street, Manchester M13 9PL, UK. E-mail: <>.


2005 marked the centenary of the publication of Forty Years Researches in the British and Saxon Burial Mounds of East Yorkshire by John Mortimer. This review explores the key concepts underpinning his work – those of progress and racial identity – and how they were developed both in the monograph and in the fieldwork and museum arrangements upon which the monograph was based. It argues that although Mortimer is best known for his work on the Neolithic and Bronze Age of East Yorkshire it was the material from Iron Age burials in the region that crystallized his thinking on these issues. The article also explores the way in which this archaeological collection shaped Mortimer's own relationships and sense of place, while contributing more broadly to regional and national discourses on identity. Finally, it highlights the contemporary significance of this collection and its associated archive, currently held at the Hull and East Riding Museum.