In the early and mid nineteenth century Classical art was the height of scholastic and cultural fashion. These were the days before cheap, easy travel and quality photography, so cast collections such as this were one of the standard tools for studying Classical art history. When a new piece of Greek or Roman sculpture was discovered, museums all over Europe would obtain plaster casts of it. In the 1950s and '60s many collections all over Europe were broken up - literally - as casts fell out of fashion; today, collections such as this are rare, and valued once again.
The Museum of Classical Archaeology was founded in 1884. In 1879 Art and Archaeology became part of the Classics degree, and the casts were used to illustrate lectures. These factors resulted in the Museum becoming part of the University of Cambridge. Indeed, by the terms of its foundation, the Museum of Classical Archaeology is a teaching tool for students first and a public amenity second. From its earliest days the Museum of Classical Archaeology was described as "the hearth and home of the Cambridge Archaeological School," where leading explorers of the Classical world received their first training.
The Museum (nicknamed the Ark) was built in Little St Mary's Lane, separate from, but close to the Fitzwilliam Museum, on land leased from Peterhouse.
The lease expired in 1983, when the Museum was united with the Classics Faculty in the present building in Sidgwick Avenue.