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Department Collections

The Ancient World collections at the Fitzwilliam span the ancient civilisations and cultures of Greece and Rome, Cyprus, Egypt and North Sudan and the Ancient Near East. Amassed by gift, bequest and purchase over the last 200 years, these rare survivors from the past –  from pots to sculpture, textiles, statues, jewellery or inscriptions - offer vivid glimpses of the lost worlds where they were made, and of the people who offered them to their gods or laid them in family graves. At the same time the collections form a case study of collecting, of how, by whom and for what purposes collections such as this were formed, and how our understanding of them has evolved over the centuries.

The Ancient World collections are displayed in Galleries 19 – 24.



  • Cambridge Theban Tombs Project

    This project, underway since 1994, documents tomb contexts and burial practice at Thebes (ancient Luxor). Recent work has focussed on ritual and burial practice within the landscape of ancient Thebes; robbery and recycling of stolen funerary goods; publication of fieldwork.

  • Ancient Egyptian Coffins

    Research into the Fitzwilliam Museum’s collection of Egyptian coffins began in 2004, as part ofthe project to examine and conserve objects during the refurbishment of the Egyptian coffins, completed in 2006. In the past, projects of this kind have focussed on either the iconography and textual content of the decoration, or the technology of the structure and decoration. In contrast, the Fitzilliam’s project is a fusion of approaches: working with experts in ancient painting and carpentry techniques, the museum’s conservation and curatorial staff study each coffin (or coffin fragment) individually, using analytical techniques, constructional analysis and wood identification, and textual and iconographic studies, as well as archival research. This synthetic approach results in a more complete history of each object, from its construction in Egypt to its arrival in Cambridge, which will be published in an online catalogue. 

  • Re-approaching Ancient Cyprus

    A re-contextualisation and redisplay of the Fitzwilliam Museum’s collections of Ancient Cypriot artefacts to reflect the close affinities of the island of Cyprus with its neighbours, particularly the Aegean, Near Eastern and North African cultures, across time.  The project will also bring to light the fundamental role the island has played in trade across the Mediterranean region, as well as the way its insularity has shaped a unique cultural identity, allowing indigenous cultural forms to be preserved and transmitted whilst new ideas and external influences   are simultaneously assimilated.  Supported by the A. G. Leventis Foundation.

Online Exhibitions

  • The Lewis Collection: From Corpus Christi to the Fitzwilliam Museum

    The Lewis Collection is currently housed in the Fitzwilliam Museum, on long term loan from Corpus Christi College.

    Here, we celebrate the man behind one of largest antiquarian collections to have remained in private ownership.

  • Origins of the Afro Comb

    In the 20th century 'afro' combs have taken on a wider political and cultural message, perhaps most notably in the form of the 'black fist' comb that references the Black power salute.

    This website aims to trace the history and the meaning of the African hair comb over nearly 6000 years in Africa, through to its re-emergence amongst the Diaspora in the Americas, Britain and the Caribbean.


Object in Focus