Ancient Mediterranean Cultures in Contact Arrives This Fall

These days, our world has never felt smaller. It’s easier than ever for people from all over the globe to meet and exchange ideas. Though technology has changed the ways we connect with far-off places, these long-distance interactions have occurred for thousands of years, linking people from different societies and creating cross-cultural influences.

On October 20, 2017, the Field Museum will open the latest special exhibit, Ancient Mediterranean Cultures in Contact. The exhibit, which runs through April 29, 2018, shines a spotlight on what happens when societies interact with one another and exchange ideas. Ancient Mediterranean showcases nearly 100 objects from the Field Museum’s ancient Egyptian, Roman, Greek, and Etruscan collections.

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.

“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.”

“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.”

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.

“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.”