Ancient Mediterranean Cultures in Contact Review – A Fascinating View of the Ancient World

Faces selected for burial masks, Photo: B. Keer

A fascinating special exhibit, Ancient Mediterranean Cultures in Contact opened at the Field Museum on October 20, 2017 and will run through April 29, 2018. The exhibit was very different from what I expected.  It was dynamic and fascinating in the way it brought into focus what happens when societies interact with one another and exchange ideas. Speaking with Project Manager, Emily Parr, I learned this exhibit is a wonderful vehicle for sharing items from the Field Museum archives, Mediterranean showcasing nearly 100 objects from the Field Museum’s ancient Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and Etruscan collections.

 

Jewelry and pottery, Photo:B. Keer

 

Bronze Bathtub, Photo: John Weinstein for the Field Museum. The tub was excavated aat Boscoreale,a villa near Pompeii

Some of these rarely seen artifacts include Etruscan gold jewelry, a mummy from Egypt, and even a bronze bathtub from Pompeii. But as Associate Curator Bill Parkinson, PhD, explained, the objects are only part of the story.

Egyptian Mummy, Photo:Ron Resta and Diane Alexander White, The Field Museum, Conquered by the Greeks and then the Romans Egyptians continued mumification of
the deceased

“We have incredible, gorgeous artifacts, but what’s really compelling are the connections that they show,” said Parkinson. “The mummy is not just a mummy; it’s a mummy from Egypt during the Roman period when cultural affiliations were very flexible. The Etruscan jewelry is decorated with Egyptian scarabs, a status symbol showing that the wearer was worldly and had prestige and power—they’re like the fancy Italian shoes of the Iron Age.”

How Religion was influenced, Photo: B. Keer
The remains of a prayer book and a Hebrew Bible, Photo: B.Keer

“Every object tells a bigger story, whether it’s about immigration, assimilation, or connection,” said Emily Parr, the exhibition’s project manager.  “Ancient Mediterranean shows what happens when people from different cultures interact: people move, things move, and ideas move.”

 

“When you watch the news, you see clips of refugees, and you hear about immigration,” said Parkinson. “These are all concerns that people had thousands of years ago, too. Humans have been interacting with different groups of humans all along, and overall, we’re pretty experienced at it.”

Ancient Mediterranean helps us to see both the past and the present in a new light,” said Parr. “It’s helpful, and important, to have a bigger picture of where our society fits within world history.”

 

The Field Museum puts a unique spin on the subject of cultural connections and influences. “It’s about anthropology,” said Parkinson. “It’s about people.”

Ships moved goods and ideas, Photo: B.Keer

There is a compelling video with charming figures that explains how ships travelling between these countries, bringing items from different cultures back and forth so that these cultures, blended and contrasted such that cultures changed in response.

Beauty and function, Photo: B.Keer

The exhibition is noteworthy not just for the connections it makes between different ancient societies, but also for the way it reveals parallels between the ancient world and the world we live in now.

Mixing Vessel, Photo: John Weinstein for Field Museum, Italian but looks Greek

Each individual piece in the exhibition has a much larger story to tell: a Roman Period mummy from Egypt, an Etruscan vase made in the Greek style, and the crowning of Greek and Roman leaders as pharaohs challenge what we’ve come to believe about these ancient nations and the world we live in today. This exhibition requires a special ticket.

Ancient Mediterranian Cultures in Contact in the gift shop, Photo: B.Keer

Before leaving the Field Museum, I chose to continue my travels through antiquity and stopped to visit the Ancient Egypt permanent exhibition.  This exhibition is extensive and all aspects of life in ancient Egypt are explored. The large collection of mummies is impressive- so much so that I remember seeing them as a child.

Wall from the permanent Egyptian Exhibit, Photo: B. Keer
Ancient Egypt Marketplace, Photo: B. Keer

Further information about the Field Museum can be found at the Field Museum website

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