city at night

city at night

Friday, June 27, 2014

The British Museum

After six days of dry weather, the forecast for today called for rain.  So today I visited the British Museum, one of the world's greatest museums of archaeology and history.  The museum was founded in 1753, and through the years its collection has grown to include more than 8,000,000 objects that represent the world's cultures from ancient times to the present.

On my previous trip to England in 2009, I had visited the British Museum.  But I had been walking all over London that day, and by the time I got to the museum I didn't have the stamina to spend much time there.  This time I saw much more of the museum, but I still have not seen it all.

Many of the museum's stellar attractions are on the first floor.  There is an enormous hall filled with artifacts from ancient Egypt.  One of the most impressive pieces is a monumental bust of the pharaoh Rameses II.

The Egyptian collection also contains the famous Rosetta Stone, the stone inscribed in several languages which led to the decipherment of the Egyptian hieroglyphics.  (It is always surrounded by crowds... just as visitors flock to the Mona Lisa in the Louvre... so I was not able to get a picture of it.)

The museum's collection of ancient Assyrian carvings is the largest in the world outside of Iraq.  Carvings from the palace walls of Nimrud and Ninevah are on display, as well as huge statues of creatures that are half man and half winged lion.


One of the most famous, and most controversial, treasures of the British Museum are the so-called Elgin Marbles... the carvings taken from the Parthenon in Athens, Greece.  In the late eighteenth century, Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire (which at that time owned Greece) was given permission to remove sculptures and carved friezes from the Parthenon and ship them to England.  Greece insists that the Elgin Marbles should be returned to their homeland.

The Elgin Marbles fill an entire hall of the museum.

Another hall contains sculptures from the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, which was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  Included are larger than life statues of King Mausolus and his wife, and a portion of a gigantic chariot horse which once stood atop the mausoleum.


On my first trip I never even made it up to the second floor.  There is much more to see there.  One hall contains treasures uncovered in the cemetery of the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur(I have seen pictures of these objects in my history books.)

Several halls deal with the history of early Britain and display artifacts from the earliest inhabitants, the Roman occupation and the medieval period.  The major attraction here is the treasure trove from Sutton Hoo, a seventh century Anglo Saxon cemetery.  Archaeologists found within a large burial mound the remains of an entire ship which contained the remains of a king along his treasure.  The discovery shed much light on early medieval England and showed that the culture of the era was much more sophisticated than previously thought. 

 A gold buckle from Sutton Hoo

 An iron helmet from Sutton Hoo

This a just a small sample of what the British Museum contains.  To see everything would require days!

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