PUG collection: from collection of curiosities to valuable resource for science

Gezicht op de opgravingen van Romeinse en middeleeuwse restanten op het Domplein te Utrecht, uit het noordwesten (1933) Bron: 42590/collectie Het Utrechts Archief
View of the excavations of Roman and medieval remains on the Domplein in Utrecht, from the northwest (1933) Source: 42590/collection Het Utrechts Archief

It is a diverse collection of antiquities: the more than 15,000 objects of the Provinciaal Utrechts Genootschap van Kunsten en Wetenschappen (PUG). The PUG collection originates from all periods from prehistory to the Late Middle Ages, but there are particularly many Roman items. As part of research project Constructing the Limes, the objects will now not only be made digitally available, the most remarkable ones will also be exhibited at Castellum Hoge Woerd starting 15 June.

Important for scientific research on borders of the Roman Empire

Founded in 1773, the PUG began collecting and managing ‘antiquities’ in 1841. This collection, also called the PUG collection, grew into an important and renowned collection of archaeological artefacts.

Saskia Stevens is project manager of Constructing the Limes. She considers the PUG collection valuable for her research: “The PUG has a first-class collection when it comes to objects from Roman Utrecht: Vechten, De Meern and Domplein.”

“With the help of all the volunteers, the collection is being made digitally accessible as part of Constructing the Limes. And by doing so, it is also accessible for research within our project. This will help us understand more about the nature and distribution of, for example, Roman pottery and metal objects in this part of the empire.”

Volunteers digitise objects

For Constructing the Limes, a group of 23 volunteers help make the collection digitally accessible in the online database of Portable Antiquities of the Netherlands (PAN). The aim of PAN is to document archaeological objects and publish these online, making information about the artifacts and their location available for science, heritage research, museums and other interested parties.

The importance of archiving archaeological discoveries is significant, thinks Vick Hermsen. He is PAN coordinator at Constructing the Limes. “Every find is a piece of the puzzle of our archaeological heritage. Archaeological finds with location data have scientific value. That is why it is important to document and archive them. When this is not done properly and the finder is out of the picture, this information is lost. That is an eternal shame.”

Opstelling van de PUG-collectie op de zolder van het Utrechtse Stadhuis; A.E. Grolman, penseel in kleur (waterverf)potlood, 1889. Bron: 38737/collectie Het Utrechts Archief
Arrangement of the PUG collection in the attic of the Utrecht City Hall; A.E. Grolman, brush in colour (watercolour) pencil, 1889. Source: 38737/collection Het Utrechts Archief

Exhibition on the history of archaeological finds

The exhibition in Castellum Hoge Woerd shows exactly that process: the development of the PUG collection from collection of curiosities assembled by distinguished gentlemen, to a treasure trove of finds for contemporary science. Sem van Horssen is a RMA-student Ancient Medieval and Renaissance Studies and involved in curating the exhibition as a scholar.

“With this exhibition, we hope to highlight the importance of both the PUG as a society, and its collection. The material I have been researching over the past year is so diverse, it offers many more opportunities.”

On Wednesday and Friday afternoons (13:00-16:00), volunteers in the ArchaeoLab of Castellum Hoge Woerd are busy registering the PUG collection in PAN. Would you like to know more about this? Then get in touch via

* This article was written by Utrecht University and was published here.