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ANU museum unveils 2000-year-old lamp

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If you thought the National Gallery was showing some old Italian wares at the moment, that's nothing compared to items on show at the ANU Classics Museum.

The 15th and 16th century paintings on display at the Renaissance exhibition are well and truly trumped by a 2000-year-old Roman lamp that has just arrived at the Classics Museum. The terracotta lamp, which features a scene of a fisherman, is the first acquisition by the museum since 2009.

Unlike the famous names currently featured over at Parkes, the maker of the new lamp is unknown. But according to museum curator Professor Elizabeth Minchin, the item is from the 1st century and would have provided light for a Roman with the addition of some oil and a wick. ''We're trying to take things back to everyday life as much as possible,'' Professor Minchin said of the museum's collection.

''It's the scene that we've bought as much as the lamp itself,'' she said.

The lamp was purchased recently at auction in London.

The Friends of the Classics Museum, who fundraise, give tours and organise lectures, toasted its unveiling out of a box labelled ''Fragile''.

Tucked away in the ANU's AD Hope Building, the museum started in the 1960s under classics Professor Richard St Clair Johnson so Canberra students could learn about ancient Greek and Roman objects.

Friends of the Museum president Ros Jackson said, ''It's a window into another world.''

Unusually, students studying subjects such as classics and ancient and art history are able to handle pieces in the 650-strong collection, which includes items such as a baby's feeding cup, a steelyard weight from the marketplace, vases, glassware and coins.

''It is a teaching collection,'' Professor Minchin said.

Dating from the bronze age about 2000 BC to late antiquity about 500 AD, the collection also includes a vase given to former prime minister Ben Chifley by the Greek Government in 1949, which is on loan from the Parliament House art collection. The museum underwent a major refurbishment in 2010 and will be open to the public again in the new year. The Friends of the Museum conduct tours each month.

This reporter is on Twitter: @canberracamper

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