Ancient wisdom at Lyman Allyn

A glance at the exhibit next door to a gallery filled with ancient artifacts says much about Lyman Allyn Museum's collection.

On this floor, the pieces in the museum's Pop Art show offer colorful contrast to the simpler stone hues of the ancients.

"People don't realize how wide-ranging the museum's permanent collection is," museum director and curator Nancy Stula says. "We have more than 10,000 objects."

"Shaped By the Ancients" features about 90 of those objects, selected by guest curator Melissa Moss of the Williams School in New London to illustrate the everyday lives of ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.

"Many (of the objects) were meant for use in household contexts, and so their value is in the insight they offer us into the daily lives of their owners," Moss writes in her exhibit notes.

But that doesn't mean they aren't striking to the modern eye. Delicate glass vessels, red- and black-figure vases and painted plates sit alongside simpler bowls, tools and amphorae (typically, containers for household goods like grain and wine).

Beyond the domestic, some objects illustrate some of the finer aspects of ancient life - a strigil, used to remove body oil from the skin; a wooden child's pull toy; coins; gleaming jewelry.

Maps of the artifacts' origins and paintings of ancient scenes from the Lyman Allyn's collection offer additional context.

Naturally, part of daily ancient life included preparations for death, and the exhibition features several items related to funerary practices among ancient peoples. Carved urns for ashes point to the practice of cremation in ancient times. Several more items in the collection, such as the stone carvings of people and animals, were crafted as offerings to various gods.

Arguably the most intriguing of the funerary lot are two falcon mummies - one complete with painted sarcophagus. Animal mummification - particularly of falcons - was a common funerary practice in ancient Egpyt, with the resulting mummies intended as gifts to various dieties. Stula notes that the falcons likely were offerings to the powerful Egyptian god Horus, often depicted in art as a falcon-headed man.

Tiny mummies aside, most objects in "Shaped By the Ancients" remind the viewer that many designs and innovations of the ancient world remain in use today, from decorations and tools to metal currency and food storage containers.

Stula notes, "You're looking at things that are thousands of years old ... and you think, some things just really have not changed all that much."

"Shaped by the Ancients" remains on display through June at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum, 625 Williams St., New London. For more information, call (860) 443-2545 or visit

Falcon Mummy
Falcon Mummy
Amphora with Birth of Athena
Amphora with Birth of Athena


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