Features Editor Sinéad Slattery goes back in time without leaving the Newman Building.
Have half an hour free between classes? Get yourself to the Newman building, room K216.
You’ll be glad you did.
Somehow, I had never actually been to the K section of Newman before, much less to the Classical Museum – so when Admin Assistant Declan Clear invited us along to have a look at this treasure trove of ancient artefacts I was intrigued.
The first thing I noticed when I walked in was the huge Roman sarcophagus by the door. It’s 2,000 years old and is carved out of pure marble. A massive amount of craft and care must have gone into its making. It’s sturdy enough that you can sit on it and the face carved into the side is still in perfect condition after two millennia.
The museum was set up by the Rev. Henry Browne, who was a professor of Greek at UCD, in the early 20th Century in Earlsfort Terrace. It moved to its current location in Belfield in 1971. The collections include a wide variety of artifacts from many different time periods, some examples being Ancient Greece, Ancient Rome and Ancient Egypt.
Unusually for a museum, there are a number of items on exhibition that you can get hold of and look at properly, without a glass partition being in your way – such as the little figurines called ushabti. They almost look like small toys; Assistant Curator of the Museum, Aoife Walshe, explained that that in Ancient Egyptian culture ushabti were buried with someone that had passed away. The idea was that these little figures would become your servants in the next life. It’s kind of hard to believe that something buried in a tomb 3,000 years ago has ended up in a drawer in Belfield.
There is a significant coin collection at the museum, including ancient slate-like rectangles with depictions of anchors and pigs on them. It is thought that the images are in relation to what you would use this money for. They also have a complete series of coins from the reigns of emperors Augustus to Marcus Aurelius.
There are a number of Greek and Roman headstones on display in the museum, some of them belonging to small children. The youngest child died at the age of 4 years, 11 months and 12 days. Her grandfather organised the production of the headstone for (and this actually appears as the inscription) “his most unfortunate granddaughter”.
The museum has approximately 400 Greek vases in its collection – the best are on display, including ones that are on loan from the National Museum of Ireland. The scenes on them are so well-preserved it’s as if they were made yesterday.
People come from all over the world to see the museum – make sure you add your name to the visitor’s book before you leave – so there’s no excuse for you and some friends not to take a look. The current opening hours are Monday, Tuesday and Thursday at 10am-4.30pm. Other viewing times can be arranged by calling +353-1-716 8476. Search UCD School of Classics on Facebook.