Roman “Swiss Army knife” goes on display

The Romans were an inventive bunch. They had running water, flush toilets, and mass media two thousand years ago. They also had their own version of the Swiss Army knife.

The curious artifact pictured here is part of the newly remodeled displays at The Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, England. “Discovering Greece and Rome” reopened today after a £950,000 ($1.5 million) refurbishment that involved eighteen months of careful research, conservation, and construction.

The Roman Swiss Army knife has a knife, spoon, fork, spike, spatula, and small pick. Archaeologists think the spike might have helped in extracting meat from snails, a popular Roman food, and the spatula in poking sauce out of narrow-necked bottles. The pick could have served as a toothpick. This isn’t the only Roman folding knife that’s been found, but they’re usually bronze and this one is silver and has a lot more gadgets. It dates to the third or fourth century A.D.

The museum has thousands of rare and one-of-a-kind artifacts from the Classical world, including a 3,000 year-old cosmetics box, intricately carved sarcophagi, elegant Greek vases, and everyday items from the civilizations that gave us so much of our own culture. Maps and a time line put everything into context.

During the refurbishment, museum staff removed a series of ancient stone inscriptions from one of the gallery’s false walls and discovered a time capsule placed there by the team that did the last remodel back in the 1960s. Inside was a copy of the Cambridge News dated Friday 10 May 1963, a selection of contemporary coins, and the names of the 1960s team carved into the cement. The Fitzwilliam didn’t say if they repeated the time capsule trick. The next team will just have to find out for themselves sometime in the future.%Gallery-45674%