A new exhibition at the Nicholson Museum connects objects from the University of Sydney’s Nicholson and Macleay collections with objects held by offshore museums.
Pieces from Charles Babbage’s Differences Engine No. 1 and an ivory inlay famously uncovered by Agatha Christie’s archaeologist husband in Iraq are among the objects linked back to those held in museums in Cairo, Canada and the University of Oxford.
In most instances the ability to connect ancient artefacts is driven by technology, particularly the rapid digitisation of museum collections around the world. But the exhibition also traverses the traditional.
A torso purchased by museum founder Sir Charles Nicholson was long considered to be a depiction of Queen Nefertiti until an eagle-eyed researcher spotted its head in the Cairo Museum, confirming the statue was in fact the goddess Isis.
“The Connections exhibition explores familiar objects in surprising ways,” said the senior curator of the Nicholson Museum, Dr Jamie Fraser.
For instance, the Nicholson collection’s famous krater – or vessel – has long been attributed to the famous Greek Antimenes Painter. The krater’s underside reveals more; the three graffito letters SNI incised on its base serves as a ‘barcode’ of a major Athenian exporter who shipped vessels to Vulci, Italy in the 6th century BC.
“At least 89 kraters marked with this graffito, reflecting their common origin, still exist” said Dr Fraser.
“This ‘barcode’ indicates they passed through the hands of the same merchant in Athens when they were transported to Italy in the 6th century BC. Over 2000 years later they are distributed amongst Museums in Europe, the UK, America and Sydney.