Sunday, 15 May 2011

A History of the World in 100 Objects - The British Museum

Over the last few months I have thoroughly enjoyed listening to the BBC radio series, "A History of the World in 100 Objects" presented by Neil MacGregor, the museum's Director.  In this series Neil examines key objects in the museum which relate to the development of civilisations and history, from the earliest times, and puts each item into its historical context.  I have found the whole series enthralling so seized the opportunity to spend a day at the British Museum to see the objects up close and personally. And what a fantastic day it was.  I managed to see nearly all of the 100 items, I think I missed around six, and saw much, much more besides.  I never cease to be amazed by the quality of artifacts produced 1000s of years ago and am in awe of the skills and patience required of the craftsmen who produced them. 

There is so much to see at the museum and it would take several visits to get around everything however I was very happy with what I achieved.  Highlights were the Elgin Marbles and the Rosetta Stone as well as the many Egyptian antiquities, including the mummy of Horneditef and the statue of Ramesses II but the item which tickled my fancy was the 18th century mechanical gold galleon, a model  about two feet long which would be placed in the centre of a banquet  table and when the hour struck would roll along the middle of the table, shooting cannons and playing a triumphant march.  One way to stop a boring conversation! Something else I noticed was how many more teeth the ancient egyptians had compared to modern man, 16 teeth both upper and lower.  My dentist told me that our diet of refined foods has gradually reduced the number of teeth we require and that he has noticed more and more children without the tooth adjoining their front tooth, i.e. their eye tooth is next to their front tooth, this includes one of my own sons.  Seems we  are still evolving.

I loved my day at the British Museum but can't help feeling uneasy and conflicted about the  collection.  So many of the items were pillaged from their place of origin and it must be a matter of distress to these countries to be denied so many of their treasures.  On the other hand the artifacts are enjoyed and studied by many more people at the museum than would be otherwise possible and the museum conserves and cares for them in the best way possible.