The Catholic University of America

Feb. 17, 2010

CUA Shares Ancient Artifacts With Young Filmmakers

  Abigail Conklin and Pranav Ramanan examine an ancient Roman cosmetics bottle as Professor William Klingshirn shows them the same kind of bottle in a British Museum handbook on Roman ceramics.

Fifth graders from a Virginia elementary school who are creating a film with a script by the ancient Roman playwright Plautus visited Catholic University’s Department of Greek and Latin earlier this week to examine examples of 2,000-year-old Roman pottery.

“As far as I know, we are the only university in Washington, D.C., with holdings in ancient Roman numismatics and ceramics, so it is not surprising that they should find their way here,” says Professor William Klingshirn, chair of the department.

Based on what these Lorton Station Elementary School students learned at CUA Feb. 15, they’ll be making clay replicas of Roman table pottery, foam replicas of amphorae (ancient wine containers), and a backdrop painting depicting other household pottery to use as props in the movie. Another group of students from the school visited campus on Feb. 1 to examine Roman coins, and will be creating facsimiles of such coins as props.

An English donor gave the pottery to the CUA Greek and Latin department in 1950. Many of the Roman coins were donated to the university by French economist Claudio Jannet, who passed away in 1894.

A Roman-era ceramic ex voto, about 4 inches long, which may have been sold outside a sanctuary to those coming to ask a god to heal a foot ailment.

What was the students’ verdict about the experience of touching and examining the ancient pottery?

“I think this is way better than a museum,” said Pranav Ramanan of Lorton, Va.

In fact, the pupils discerned a faded design on one of the ancient perfume bottles that Klingshirn hadn’t noticed before. “Museums are missing out on a lot by not letting people touch things,” said Abigail Conklin of Fairfax Station, Va.

“Well,” replied Klingshirn, “what you have to do now is study Greek and Latin, and eventually become a scholar of these things — and then the museums will have to let you touch them because you’ll be the expert on them.”