What Is the Nicholson Museum?

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  • Written By: Dan Harkins
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2019
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The University of Sydney has been collecting ancient artifacts and storing them at its Nicholson Museum of Antiquities since 1860. That is when the museum was opened with the collection of school co-founder Sir Charles Nicholson. According to the school, it has grown due to faculty finds and additional requisitions to become the largest university-connected archeological museum south of the equator.

Located at the center of the school's main campus, the Nicholson Museum is just one of the Sydney University museums that are free and open to the public. Also in the group are the University Art Gallery and the Macleay Museum featuring natural history. Part of the holdings are located at the school's Rare Books & Special Collections Library that in 2011 had more than 170,000 rare works, such as a first edition copy of Sir Isaac Newton's pivotal Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica.

Nicholson Museum divides its work into a handful of categories. A European Collection focuses on early Anglo-Saxon tools, including an ax estimated to be about 250,000 years old. The Classical Collection holds artifacts from ancient Greek and Roman cultures, from domestic items preserved by the infamous eruption of Mount Vesuvius at Pompeii to formal statuary of the imperial classes. Both the Egyptian and Near Eastern collections include similarly illuminating artifacts from those ancient cultures.


Sydney University's faculty features prominently in the collections. The Near Eastern exhibitions are full of archeological discoveries unearthed by faculty at locations like Jordan's ancient cities of Teleilat Ghassul and Wadi Hammeh. Yet another collection exhibited at the Nicholson Museum, the Cypriot Collection of prehistoric artifacts, hinges on faculty finds from 1950s excavations on the ancient island of Cyprus in the Mediterranean Sea.

A range of special exhibits fill in all the gaps at Nicholson Museum. In 2011, one of these included Charles Nicholson: Man and Museum, a tribute to the museum's founder, which features key initial donations that started the legacy. Other special exhibits sharing space include historical features on ancient Egyptian, Etruscan and Italian civilizations.

Being connected to a major university, the museum naturally has an educational focus. It does not just exhibit university finds; it also helps younger students better understand their roots. Following a mission similar to the natural history museum's, student and adult learners regularly make their way through the Nicholson Museum with guides trained to tie the various collections together into a big picture of the human race.


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