Museum Chats

Every month, the Museum offers 30-minute “museum chats” about ancient objects in our collection, led by faculty, and graduate and undergraduate students currently completing research on related material.  Visitors are invited to look up close at objects and ask questions of our presenters. Over the past several months, we have held museum chats featuring a diverse range of objects from the Museum, from objects from Roman home decorating trends to those related to magic spells. Please check back for future dates.

October2017museumchatOctober 2017

What is a mummy?

Why were the dead embalmed in Egypt?

How have Egyptian mummies come to hold such a unique place in Western popular culture?

And, how do Edgar Allen Poe and Baltimore fit into the story?

On Tuesday, October 31st, from 12:15 to 12:45, Egyptology graduate student Meg Swaney will talk about the many uses of Egyptian mummies, both ancient and modern, and discuss how museums deal with the complex issue of displaying Egypt’s ancient dead.


 March 2016


On Monday, March 28th, from 12:15 to 12:45,  Roman hair archaeologist and contemporary hairstylist Janet Stephens will discuss the tools of the ancient Roman hairdresser and create an ancient hairstyle on a live model, the museum’s own student employee Ruthie Portes (JHU Class of 2016).  Janet Stephens’ work has been featured in the Journal of Roman Archaeology, BBC News, the Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker.

October 2015

Storage containers used in the museum long ago don't meet current best practices of today, but they can tell their own story.

Storage containers used in the museum long ago don’t meet current best practices of today, but they can tell their own story.

On Friday, October 30, from 12:15 to 12:45, Jennifer Torres and Kate Gallagher, JHUAM Collections staff will discuss how a museum collection with a collecting history that spans over 130 years, can hold many mysteries and a few horrors. The chat will highlight the detective work behind understanding the collection’s history including a mysterious package containing Egyptian and Roman artifacts that arrived in the mail and the “horror” of past non-archival storage that is currently being upgraded to today’s professional standards.

March 2015


Detail from a watercolor image representing the famous Cupbearer from the Minoan palace at Knossos, Crete. The image was commissioned for the Archaeological Museum in the early 1900s.

On Friday, March 27th, from 12:15 to 12:45, Dr. Emily Anderson, Departments of Classics and History of Art, will discuss how excavation of the Minoan palace of Knossos on Crete impacted Baltimore society in the 1900s-30s. The centerpiece of this chat will be reproductions of wall paintings commissioned in the 1900s for the Hopkins museum and a dubious ivory “goddess” purchased for the Walters collection. Through replicas, fakes, and fashions, Baltimoreans of many stripe were consuming Bronze Age Aegean culture.

November 2014

Glass trulla, JHUAM HT 228

Glass trulla, JHUAM HT 228

For our November chat, “Home for the (Roman) Holidays”, graduate students Nicole Berlin (History of Art) and Adam Tabeling (Classics) will discuss aspects of the ancient Roman house, from the decoration of walls and floors to the everyday use of glass vessels.  The chat takes place on Wednesday, November 19th, from 12:15-12:45pm. For a preview of some of the objects to be shown at chat, see our online catalogue The Roman House at Hopkins.

April 2014

A chous (miniature wine jug) depicting a girl and dog, Greek, 475-425BCE

A chous (miniature wine jug) depicting a girl and dog, Greek, 475-425BCE

Our April museum chat on April 9th featured two speakers discussing the theme of childhood in ancient Greece.  At 12:15pm, Nissa Cheng, JHU senior and major in Classics analyzed objects from the museum collection which reflect the different roles that male and female children played in ancient Greek society. At 12:30, Dr. Alan Shapiro, W.H. Collins Vickers Professor in the Department of Classics discussed objects including the internationally renowned Attic red-figure kylix attributed to the Kiss Painter, dated c. 500 BCE.

March 2014


Amulet of the goddess Nephtys, faience, ca. 664-343 BCE.

On Wednesday, March 24th, we held a museum chat about ancient Egyptian amulets and invited visitors to make their own.  How did the ancient Egyptians protect themselves from the forces of evil and chaos and ensure their safe passage into the afterlife? At 12:15, Kierra Foley, senior in Near Eastern Studies, highlighted examples of magical and protective amulets at the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum. At 12:30, Jill Waller, graduate student in Near Eastern Studies, discussed examples of amulets from the Eton College Myers Collection, currently on loan to Johns Hopkins.

February 2014


The inscription for Grattius, dated to the 1st c. CE.

On Saturday, February 1st, from 12:30 to 1:00pm, we held a museum chat about an ancient curse on a Roman funerary inscription. Elisabeth Campbell, graduate student in Classics, and Garrison Forest School students Anna Gorman and Amanda Witherspoon discussed the funerary inscription for Grattius which includes the chilling words, “Because you have robbed me, you shall not be allowed to see the light of day again…”

November 2013

MuseumChatFlierOn Monday, November 18th we opened two new museum exhibits featuring collections of Ancient Near Eastern objects from sites in Jordan and Iraq. Dr. James Osborne, Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Near Eastern Studies and Anna Glenn, graduate student in the Department of Near Eastern Studies, discussed the cultural and historical context of these collections.  Dr. Osborne discussed the Frank Mount collection of ceramics, focusing on how these vessels—dating from the Chalcolithic period to the Iron Age—can be used as chronological indicators and evidence of interregional trade. Anna Glenn retraced the detective work needed to recover the history of a group of objects dating between the 3rd millennium BCE and the 1st century BCE that were excavated at the site of Nippur and deposited in the museum in the 1950s.

October 2013

Silver coin of the emperor Hadrian, dated 119 CE.

Silver coin of the emperor Hadrian, dated 119 CE.

On October 17th between 12:15 and 12:45, Elisabeth Campbell, graduate student in the Department of Classics, and undergraduate students Wolfgang Alders and Sheri Leonard discussed recent work on a collection of ancient Roman coins in the Archaeological Museum.  Attendees heard about the Hopkins alumnus Franklin Wright who collected and studied the coins before donating them to the Museum.

September 2013

Our chat on Friday, September 13th featured Dr. Betsy Bryan, Alexander Badawy Professor of Egyptian Art and Archaeology, and Egyptology graduate student Ashley Fiutko Arico discussing three painted wooden disks depicting the ancient Egyptian crocodile deity Sobek.  They described the original use of these intriguing objects, decipher the cryptic painted inscriptions on them, and highlighted recent discoveries about one of the disks which will soon be on display at the Walters Art Museum in the exhibition “Egypt’s Mysterious Book of the Faiyum.”

March 2013

PlankFigFlyerSmallerOur March chat featured Laura Hutchison, graduate student in Classical Art and Archaeology discussion of some of the museum’s votive figurines, including a small Hand of Sabazius, and statuettes of Lares, Harpokrates, and Hercules. These objects reflect the prevalence of religious syncretism in the Roman domestic sphere.

From 12:30 to 12:45, Dr. Emily Anderson, Lecturer in Aegean Bronze Age in the Department of Classics  discussed objects from the island of Cyprus, including the museum’s two unique plank figurines, which raise questions concerning the representation of gender and how it changed over time.

February 2013

The museum chat on Monday, February 11th featured two speakers describing the care of the self in the ancient world. From 12:15-12:30 Art History graduate student Nathan Dennis discussed the personal beauty and appearance of men in Greece and Rome. From 12:30-12:45 Experimental Archaeologist and Hairdresser Janet Stephens spoke on aspects of female hairdressing in ancient Rome.

Dr. Lauinger makes a cuneiform tablet at the December museum chat.


December 2012

For our final museum chat of the year, we offered our visitors the opportunity to make their own cuneiform tablets after hearing about their ancient manufacture and history from Dr. Jacob Lauinger, Assistant Professor of Assyriology and Anna Glenn, graduate student, both in the department of Near Eastern Studies.  On December 5th, from 12:15 to 12:30, our speakers discussed ancient cuneiform tablets and cylinder seals in the museum collection.  From 12:30 onwards, we made our own tablets using stylus tools and replicas of cylinder seals.

November 2012

Ceramic bowl from Veracruz, Mexico (600-900 CE).

In honor of Veteran’s Day, the Archaeological Museum (Gilman 150) held a Museum Chat on Tuesday, November 13th, on the lives and deaths of warriors from the Ancient Americas and the Roman Empire. From 12:15 to 12:30, Dr. Lisa Deleonardis, Austen-Stokes Term Professor in Art of the Ancient Americas discussed the narratives on two Vera Cruz ceramic vessels from Mexico (600-900 CE).  From 12:30 to 12:45, Classics graduate student Elisabeth Schwinge discussed epitaphs for Roman soldiers that shed light on how they lived, worked and died.

October 2012

On Halloween, Wednesday October 31st, the museum presented a chat about ancient Egyptian animal mummies and bones in the museum collection and their role in funerary and magical practices.  The objects were discussed by Egyptology graduate student Ashley Fiutko Arico.  Cat, dog, ibis and shrew mummies were on view as well as crocodile bones and reliquaries that once held animal remains.

September 2012

On Wednesday, September 26th, at the Archaeological Museum in Gilman 150, from 12:15 to 12:45, two speakers discussed powerful magic texts from the ancient Near East.

Dr. Theodore Lewis (far left) and Marina Escolano-Poveda (left) enthralled a crowd of nearly 50 attendees to the September 2012 museum chat.

From 12:15 to 12:30, Dr. Theodore Lewis, Blum-Iwry Professor of Near Eastern Studies discussed the topic, “Deciphering Ancient Magic Spells: From the Late Bronze Age to Late Antiquity,” and revealed the ancient words written on a ceramic sherd from the site of Nippur (current day Iraq) in the museum collection and dated between the 5th-7th century CE.

From 12:30 to 12:45, Egyptology graduate student Marina Escolano-Poveda presented her recent research on a funerary papyrus dated to ca. 1000 BCE from the Eton College Myers Collection, currently on loan to the museum.

A detail of the Amduat Papyrus (ECM 1573) dated to the 21st Dynasty in the Third Intermediate Period (ca. 1000 BCE). This object is currently on loan to the museum from Eton College, England. Learn more about this artifact and others during our September museum chat.

April 2012

Left: Professor Paul Delnero reads from an ancient cuneiform tablet. Right: Curator Sanchita Balachandran shows images of the “Tanagra” terracotta archer before conservation.

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The art (or crime) of copying ancient artifacts is an old one.  On Tuesday, April 10th,  we examined ancient objects from the museum collection, and some of the relatively modern works that they inspired.From 12:15-12:30, Paul Delnero, Assistant Professor in the Department of Near Eastern Studies, deciphered texts from ancient Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets and also decoded a not-so-ancient cuneiform tablet written for Daniel Coit Gilman, the first president of Johns Hopkins University, in the late 19th century.  Another tablet for Hopkins Classicist Basil Gildersleeve was also discussed.

From 12:30-12:45, Sanchita Balachandran, Curator/Conservator of the Johns Hopkins Archaeological Museum, discussed a group of terracotta figurines on display in the museum collection that were pieced back together from hundreds of fragments in 2010.  These so-called Tanagra figurines, supposed to date from the last quarter of the 4th century BCE, might actually have been made in the 19th century.  We examined objects including the Knucklebone Player and the Terracotta Archer currently on view in the museum.

March 2012

Maggie Bryson (far left) and Dr. Betsy Bryan (left) discuss Egyptian funerary objects with visitors.

On March 15, from 12:15-12:45, two speakers considered how the ancient Egyptians cared for their dead.  Led by  Dr. Betsy Bryan, Alexander Badawy Professor of Egyptian Art and Archaeology, and Egyptology graduate student Maggie Bryson, the chat gave visitors an opportunity to see and learn more about the Ptolemaic mummy, a mummy mask, an ancient ivory wand and an Old Kingdom painted wooden tomb figure on view in the museum. Download a copy of this poster here.

February 2012

Laura Garofalo and Nicole Berlin lead the February museum chat.

For Valentine’s day, Classics graduate students Laura Garofolo and Nicole Berlin posed the following query:
“Have you ever wondered about the more “intimate” details of life in ancient Rome? Join us at the JHU Archaeological Museum for a discussion of Roman amatory objects dealing with several forms of love, from the romantic, to the erotic, till death do us part (or not!).”
Focusing on three images of the goddess Venus as well as more humble, domestic objects such as a lamp fragment with an erotic scene and a child’s gold ring with a phallus.

November 2011

Our November museum chat focused on the topics of revelry, food and drink in ancient Greece and Rome.  Led by  Dr. Alan Shapiro, W.H. Collins Vickers Professor of Archaeology in the Department of Classics, and  Dr. Matthew Roller, Professor in the Department of Classics, the conversation discussed objects such as Greek drinking vessels and images of Roman and Etruscan figures feasting.

The November museum chat, “Revelry, Food and Drink” featured Classics professors Dr. Alan Shapiro (far left) and Dr. Matthew Roller (left).

October 2011

Our first museum chat on Halloween, October 31st, discussed a Roman lead curse tablet in the museum and focused on its original use as well as the recent conservation work that made it possible for us to place it on exhibit.  The original context and use of the curse tablet was presented by Elisabeth Schwinge, graduate student in the Department of Classics, with the conservation of the tablet discussed by Sanchita Balachandran.  The event was even featured on the 5’o’clock news on WBAL Television.