Etruscan story unfolds for young students at BYU museum

A journey back to a time 25 centuries ago captures the attention and sparks the interest of young students on a regular basis at the BYU Art Museum.

The exhibit "The Etruscans: Legacy of a Lost Civilization" has become a hit with school-age youth throughout Utah. Approximately 12,000 students from 200 schools have toured the exhibit since it opened on Oct. 13, 1883, reported Ellen Powley, the museum's director of docents and volunteers. Every week, around 20 school groups, from kindergarten through high school, visit the museum, according to Herman du Toit, one of the docents who assist the groups on their Etruscan tour."The Etruscans," on loan from the Vatican Museums, is the inaugural exhibit at the new museum that was dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley, first counselor in the First Presidency. "The Etruscans" will be on display at the BYU museum until April 30. The museum is a state-of-the-art facility built to preserve and display BYU's extensive collections, as well as touring exhibits.

Most students come well prepared to enjoy their travel back in time. Using a curriculum kit provided by the museum, teachers share the history of the Etruscans with students before their visit.

The youth learn that the Etruscans appeared in central Italy about 2,500 years ago and built a lavish civilization. They learn the people in that civilization developed many things that are more closely associated with the Romans such as the banquet, the toga, the keystone arch, water conduits and "Roman" numerals. They discover that the Etruscans dominated central Italy for more than 500 years before they were assimilated into the Roman Empire.

With that background learned in the classroom, they make the trip to the museum to see actual Etruscan artifacts such as art-covered pottery, gold jewelry, and bronze creations like wall hangings, utensils and military armor.

They can get even closer to the Etruscans with a hands-on experience in the exhibit's interactive gallery. There they try on Etruscan clothing, write using the Etruscan alphabet, build a keystone arch with foam blocks, and weave cloth.

The promise of a tour is good incentive for the students. "It gave them a reason to be learning," said Barbara Mendez, social studies teacher at Carl Sandburg Elementary School in West Valley City, Utah. She accompanied 64 sixth graders from her school on a tour of the Etruscan exhibit on Jan. 13.

"To them, ancient is anything before Christmas," she continued. "It was good for them to look at the contributions made by a civilizaiton so long ago. This was the culmination of what we have been studying and they were excited to see some of these ancient things they had been studying about. It will also help them with the study of other ancient civilizations."

The group from Carl Sandburg Elementary was typical of the school groups that visit the exhibit, du Toit said. After putting on the head phones for the audio-taped guided tour, the youth turned their attention to the displays in various exhibit areas on two floors of the museum.

They were entranced in varying degrees by what they saw and heard. Although they were able to meander through the exhibit at their own pace, there were usually small clusters moving from display to display.

In the interactive area, the youth were delighted as they were able to touch as well as see. "The students are less inhibited about doing things there than adults," said Charlene Winters, a BYU media relationships coordinator. "They have a good time doing things like trying on the clothes and building the arch."

In a browsing room, the students had another chance to write using the Etruscan alphabet or to draw pictures of what impressed them in the exhibit. There they also went on a sand search, uncovering with their hands and brushes replica's of Etruscan treasures in a sand box built by Joseph Germaine, a teacher at Shelley Elementary School in American Fork, Utah.

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