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The Written in Stone exhibition showing a range of ethnographic images and stone tool artefacts

Past exhibitions

Delve into our previous exhibitions
Revisit some of the ground-breaking exhibitions that were held in the Macleay Museum, Nicholson Museum and University Art Gallery.

We’ve developed a wide range of entertaining and scholarly exhibitions over the past decades.

It is possible to explore many of the past exhibitions through our collection search, and discover where our objects have been exhibited in Australian galleries and museums from around the globe.

Recent Nicholson Museum exhibitions

Black and white clay pottery depicting ancient Greek themes.

Red-figure bell krater, Athens, Greece 375–350 BC, attributed to ‘Retorted Painter’

Actors, Athletes and Academics: Life in Ancient Greece

This exhibition showcased material from Greece and South Italy. Visitors will gain an understanding of the daily experience of living in ancient Greece through the writings of ancient Greek playwrights, historians, philosophers and poets and the pottery and other items produced and used by the Greeks. Explore themes of theatre, religion, wine drinking, education, childhood, marriage, war and athletics.

Ancient Greek amphitheatre showing local Greeks.

[Gathering on the theatre of Dionysos], Athens, Greece 1890–1910, photograph: William J Woodhouse

The Art of Storytelling

The invention of staged, scripted storytelling began in Greece in the middle of the first millennium BC. The employment of actors to play out a scripted story revolutionised the way that historical events, mythological lovers, and tales of morality were conceived and passed down through the generations.

The art of storytelling explored the material culture of theatre in ancient Greece and Rome from the Nicholson Collection with historical photographs and stereographs of archaeological theatre sites and included virtual reality models of the ancient theatre of Nea Paphos in Cyprus. 

This exhibition was held in association with the Department of Classics and Ancient History conference 'Theatre and Autocracy in the Classical World' 25–27 July 2018, the University of Sydney.

Colourful ancient Egyptian titles depicting pharos and hieroglyphics

Fragment of a relief of Thutmoses III, Deir el-Bahri, Egypt c.1430 BC, on loan from the Australian Museum [E16270], on a reconstructed temple wall by Dr Howells and Dr Drabsch (School of Creative Industries, University of Newcastle)


Like currents between islands, objects forge connections between museums around the world. Museums are not defined by their walls, but by the objects in their collections and the connections they represent.

This exhibition explored how particular objects in the Nicholson, Macleay and University Art collections are intimately connected to objects in museums elsewhere in Australia and overseas. These connections tell us more about the objects themselves, and the circumstances that saw them divided and dispersed. 

Small sarcophagus covered in colourful hieroglyphics and wrapped in cloth wrappings

Mummy of a boy, early-second century, found in Thebes, Egypt

Death Magic

Death in ancient Egypt was a magical experience. There were gods to judge and guide, amulets and spells to protect, mummification to preserve, even shabtis to do your work for you in an idyllic afterlife.

As well as ancient artefacts associated with this magic, Death Magic featured natural history specimens: snakes, scorpions and scarab beetles, a human heart and brain, and the preserved head of a bull.

A depiction of Pompeii built using LEGO

LEGO Pompeii

LEGO Pompeii, one of the largest LEGO historical models ever built, was constructed by LEGO Professional Builder Ryan McNaught (also known as The Brickman). The model includes Pompeii as it was at the moment of destruction in 79 AD, as it was when rediscovered in the 1700s, and as it is today.

As with our LEGO Colosseum and our LEGO Acropolis, the model incorporates fact and fiction, history and pop culture.

A white funeral tile with red wording etched in.

Roman stone funeral stele with Latin inscription, first to fourth century, Italy

Memento: Remembering Roman Lives

Can you tell a person's story from a simple stone inscription? An exhibition of Roman funerary monuments from the Nicholson Collection.

Black and white Cypriot artwork of two birds

The Sky and the Sea: Ancient Cypriot Art

Cyprus is the eastern-most island of the Mediterranean, positioned geographically and culturally between the East and the West. It has been occupied by humans for more than 10,000 years, and those millennia have left a rich archaeological legacy and a strong Cypriot aesthetic style. This style was borrowed from the surrounding cultures of the Mediterranean and blended to create something wonderful and uniquely Cypriot.

Defined by the natural world and by the experience of ongoing cultural contact through trade and occupation, it is a style inspired by both the sea and the sky.

The Sky and the Sea: Ancient Cypriot Art examined the artistic traditions of the island demonstrated in the Nicholson Collection of Cypriot antiquities.

Painted depiction detailing the Tomb of the Leopards, an Etruscan burial chamber

The Etruscans

Etruscans are the very stuff of fantasy, myth and legend. Who are they? Where did they come from? And what does their language mean?

Although wiped out or assimilated by Rome, they have left us an extraordinarily rich heritage of art, jewellery, metalworking, terracotta sculpture, urban planning, walls, and roads. Indeed, in the 6th century BC, the Etruscans were the most influential people in the Mediterranean.

So what went wrong?

This exhibition explored the material culture of the Etruscans from the Nicholson Collection.

Top-down view of mixed archeological bones and bone fragments

Tombs, Tells and Temples: Excavating the Near East

From the extraordinary antiquities and sites to the personalities of archaeologists such as Dame Kathleen Kenyon, Sir Flinders Petrie and Sir Max Mallowan, the archaeology of the Near East is a fascinating subject.

The cities and civilisations of the ancient Near East flourished on the Levantine Coast (modern-day Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine and Jordan); in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey); along the great river systems of Mesopotamia (modern-day Iran and Iraq), and as far as India and Pakistan.

This region was not united in antiquity – different cultures, languages, religions and artistic traditions existed, empires rose to power and were conquered, and migrants who were displaced clashed or intermingled with the resident population.

Artefacts from the Nicholson's own collection, excavated from the famous sites of Jericho, Tell Brak, Pella, Tell Al-Ajjul, Harappa, Ur, Nineveh and Nimrud form the cornerstone of this exhibition.

Featured image (top of the page): Written in Stone, Macleay Museum 17 Aug 2015 – Aug 2016