The Clayton Museum of Ancient History featuring the Stanback collection includes a wide array of artifacts, with the core of the collection focused around the Roman soldier. The museum is housed in the lower level of the Phyllis Mackey Center at 8th and Delaware on York College’s campus.
At the entrance of the museum, visitors are greeted with toppled Corinthian columns and a wall display bringing to life a significant historical site—the ancient city of Palmyra in modern day Syria.
Past the ruins of Palmyra, museum visitors find a variety of artifacts that span from the Neolithic Period (6500-3500 B.C.) to the 17th century A.D.—artifacts such as statues and figurines from locations throughout the Middle East, portions of cuneiform tablets containing ancient texts, scarab beetles and even a set of Egyptian hand tools from the time of King Tut.
The core of the collection is focused on the ancient Roman soldier: military diplomas, decorative medals, rings, clothing, seals, armor and all manner of weapons. This part of the collection also features one standout piece—a full-scale replica of a Roman siege machine called an onager. Related to a catapult, the device was used to launch stones or clay balls filled with combustible materials at enemy fortresses.
In addition to the permanent collection, the museum features a space for a temporary exhibit. Currently on display are images from cultural heritage sites that have been impacted by conflict around the world. The museum also includes a replica of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Museum patrons can write prayers to put into the cracks of the wall, just as religious pilgrims do at the real site.
The collection concludes with a display of ornate leaflets from early edition Bibles printed in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
The museum was made possible by the gift of the Stanback collection from a private collector of antiquities. Museum curator Amber Soderholm has been working with the collection since 2013, when the possibility of moving its 230 artifacts to Nebraska as a permanent museum was first explored. At that time, the collection had been in a traveling display called the Museum of the Ancient Roman Soldier, which toured the West Coast.
Soderholm and exhibit artist Kate Dibbern have worked to create a world-class museum that is an interesting and educational resource. One of the biggest challenges has been establishing the context of the artifacts, says Dibbern. “It’s small stuff with a big past,” she said. “The artifacts are mostly from the Middle East and they’re thousands of years old. We wanted people to understand the impact of these small pieces and how important they are in the context of their time and place.”
The next challenge Soderholm and Dibbern will tackle is the creation of an interactive area. Participants can take part in an archaeological dig, shop in an ancient marketplace, and “live” in a replica Israelite dwelling. Soderholm is also developing programs geared towards adults as well as school groups, as ancient history is part of the core curriculum for middle school students in Nebraska.