British Museum

I always add “of other people’s stuff” with a smile.

As I was in London for the morning, I decided to take the afternoon as holiday and spend a few hours in the British Museum which was only a short walk away.

I’m not sure that I’d been to this museum since a school trip to see the Tutankhamen exhibition of 1972 so only had a vague idea where it was or what was in it.

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Inside the courtyard has been glassed over to make it a VERY large room. I did try and stitch together a number of photos to make a nice panorama view but it turned out too fish-eye-lens style with lots of gaps.

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So a random stroll, starting on the right then round the front, through the loos and out to the left.

Enlightenment (Room 1)

The Enlightenment Gallery is a pick’n’mix from the new disciplines of the period from 1680-1820:

  • Religion and ritual
  • Trade and discovery
  • The birth of archaeology
  • Art and civilisation
  • Classifying the world
  • Ancient scripts
  • The natural world

There is a wide range of wonderful items in a gallery with floor-to-ceiling cabinets full of more items to look at. I only took a few photos, though, as glass cabinets do not assist photography.

Here’s Zeus:

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And a ridiculously large fossilised ammonite:

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The Changing Museum (Room 2)

Room 2 features a changing selection of objects from the Museum collection.”

Statue of a warrior holding an axe and a decapitated head, from Costa Rica 1000-1500 AD.

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This British axe head is maybe half a million years old. That’s 5 followed by five zeroes. 500,000 years. The piece from Dorset has sharp edges and would be functional but is way too large to be used, except maybe as a status symbol. “My lump of flaked flint is considerably bigger than yours”.

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Egyptian sculpture (Room 4)

Highlight of the afternoon was looking round the Egyptian section with its fabulous pieces from 1,000s of years ago. Shocking to think how much has been lost over the years as stone buildings and blocks were recycled for other, more useful, purposes, such as this item. Initially it looks like a grindstone for making flour with a hole for the wooden post that would position another stone above it. Looking closer, you can see the remains of Egyptian writing, most of which has been worn away.

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A Horus Falcon (limestone, after 600BC) full of character.

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The following bits are from what was an enormous standing statue in red granite of an unknown king, maybe 3,40o years old, from the Temple of Mut in Thebes. Wish I’d measured the arm so I could have a stab at working out how tall the statue must have been originally.

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The following quartzite statue of Ankhrekhu (nearly 4,000 years old) just oozes calm and serenity . The jug ears were, apparently, the fashion on statues of the time.

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Assyrian sculpture and Balawat Gates (Room 6)

Assyrian Art just doesn’t have the same appeal. Maybe it’s the haircuts and beards. Or the camp poses.

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The museum website described this as a  “colossal winged human-headed lion”. As any self-respecting Dungeons & Dragons player will know, the proper name is a Shedu.

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Assyria: Lion hunts (Room 10a)

There are some lovely sections of carved wall but they are very big. Taking lots of photos seems like a great idea so you can recreate the wall later but it is very hard. Even using stitching software, it’s impossible to get all the pieces to fit together. Trying to get the horses to fit to the right of the king in his chariot was a nightmare so I just gave up.

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Now this exhibit, though, has a “wow” factor. Even in a big place like the museum, these doors are big. Also, they look like what I expect the real things would have back in 850BC. Sure, this reconstruction of the Balawat Gates has no original components but that’s not important – looking at the original remnants in the cases to either side would not give me the same scale and sense of grandeur.

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Greece: Parthenon (Room 18)

The Parthenon sculptures don’t really do much for me. The people on the museum website’s video think they’re fabulous but I don’t really look at them in the same way. Sure, the creators were impressive artists but I found it difficult to see beyond the huge amount of damage most of the stone blocks had received.

Some of the sculptures – or, more accurately, the work of the museum curators – made me intensely annoyed because of what was missing. For example, a centaur fight scene had a small notice saying that the missing head was in some museum in Denmark. So if the curators know what the head looks like, why can’t they put a copy on top of the statue so that everybody else gets to know too? Would it detract from the quality of the statue in any way to have more of it visible, a statue that wasn’t initially designed to have bits missing?

On the other hand, though, I don’t expect them to aspire for complete restoration. I was impressed to learn that statues didn’t start off bleached-bone-white and were in fact brightly painted. I wouldn’t mind seeing a mock-up of the Parthenon, like represented in CGI in the video I mentioned, which showed the statues in their original positions around the building’s circumference and boldly coloured to help me understand what they would have looked like.

So, overall, the largest room in the museum was – for me – the most disappointing.

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