Thursday, July 8, 2010

A Pitiful Attempt to Contain the British Museum in a Single Blog Post

What's the first thing you might notice about the British Museum? It's humongous! The museum map at first glance is bigger than my hand and longer than an octave on a piano (how far my hand stretches lengthwise), then proceeds to fold out to almost three times that size. And that's a bare minimum map, with small print correlating to numbered exhibits so as to take up the smallest amount of space possible. I actually didn't end up using the map very much at all, because it was easier to just wander and see what you found.
I spent almost an entire day in the museum, managed to see most things, and only sat down for about 10 minutes while in there. Well, 20 minutes, if you want to count when I stopped for lunch in a cafeteria corner of the Great Hall, pictured here courtesy of Wikipedia.
They've got just about everything in the British Museum, enough to fill a couple other museums. They even had the stairwells filled; in the one that I used, the walls were covered with tile murals from the 2nd century and beyond. It was slow going, because everyone wanted to rub the murals as they passed. The only gap I could name in their collection was American items, the only items from the North American continent that I found being Native American traditional-type materials and a couple of dishes from the Arts and Crafts/Art Deco period. Oh, and a Mastodon jaw found near the Ohio river, which was one of the first ever found and was nicknamed "the Unknown American." The British Museum owns something of everything and everyone else.
As I might have said before, the majority of my visit to the British Museum was spent wandering hither and thither. I started out in the Enlightenment gallery, which contained not only treasured from the Enlightenment itself, but also artifacts from whatever the enlightened were interested in. As you can see in this picture from Wikipedia (which will be switched later for my own pictures, so please return in August), not only do the tables have artifacts in them, but the lower compartments feature larger items, and the bookcases in the wall are filled with even more items. I saw about half a dozen ancient helmets, various statues from the different periods in question, the only nest specimen to survive from Captain Cook's voyages (that of a Glittering-bellied Emerald Hummingbird, which happened to have been packed with the plant samples). This was where the "unknown American" mastodon jaw was kept, along with some of the other first specimens of mastodons and ichthyosaurs. They always say that people kept women out of the history books, but it was a woman, Mary Anning, who was the first to find complete specimens of ichthyosaurs, plesiosaurs and pterodactyls in Great Britain. They also keep a copy of the Rosetta stone in this gallery; very fun people-watching opportunity there, as it is kept in the open. It also made a very nice photograph, which I will be happy to show when I return home, because behind it are items from the King's Library, the king in question being George III (the Americans' fave, right?), who donated his immense library to the kingdom after his death. The only catch is that his library must be kept in a display where the public may see it, so they are kept in this gallery and in a glass tower at the British Library, which will be the topic of one of my next posts. I never did figure out where they kept the actual Rosetta stone, by the way--one of my friends saw it and took a picture of it, safely behind its glass. Looking at the map, I think I missed it by just a few paces, because I was in the gallery where it is labeled in the map. I'm perfectly content with my experience near the copy, because it was easier to photograph and examine, and it was so much fun seeing people's reactions to being able to touch it.
I also saw the general exhibit of the Egyptian mummies--they have a special exhibition going on right now with the Egyptian book of the dead, but it cost more and I had my fill of dead people with the permanent exhibits. It smelled kind of funny in there--I'm hoping it was just something different they used to clean the glass or something!
There was also a gallery of clocks, which was very funny to see after my adventure in the Clockmaker's Museum (look a few posts back if you missed it).
I also saw the Sutton Hoo helmet, found in a mysterious burial mound in the country. It was neat looking around the collections of early and Medieval Europe, with everything from armor to coins and elaborately decorated pieces of a door. There were also some drawings done in the first few centuries of Jesus growing up, rather unbiblical (with the exception of one featuring his first recorded miracle) but entertaining to examine.
I had to wonder just how the British Musem managed to acquire all of these things, most especially as I was wandering through a series of rooms that had Assyrian carved stone wall murals including such events as a lion hunt (a royal pasttime) and the laying seige of a Hebrew town.
Let's see, other things that I enjoyed viewing in the British Museum: there was an amazing new exhibition of Chinese printmaking from the 8th century to the present. I loved the exhibit, and would have even bought a book of the prints if they had a copy in the store, but alas it was absent. I'm including a link here to some of the prints, on the BM's website.
There's an Easter Island statue, which I took a picture of for a certain brother whose favorite character to quote in the "Night at the Museum" movie was the Easter Island head that loved gum.
There was also an impressive exhibit that featured several thousand years' worth of Chinese jade.
There's also an ambitious project in connection with the BBC for a documentary of "A History of the World in 100 Objects." We shall see if they can really fit "over two million years" of history into 15 minutes per object.
I don't think that someone could really sum up so much in a single blog post, so I'll finish here with a few more tidbits and links: a highlight of the museum's collections by place, people, culture, or material; over a dozen online tours of the museum's different collections; and a page where you can search the online collections database comprised of almost two million objects.

No comments:

Post a Comment