The BBC in conjunction with the British Museum is putting on a new series this year, “A history of the world in 100 objects”. Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, has chosen 100 objects from their remarkable collection to illustrate the sweep of human history, ranging from early stone axes through modern icons such as credit cards. Each object gets a 15 minute episode broadcast on BBC Radio 4, and available on-line and as a podcast.
They’ve finish 4 weeks (or 20 episodes), and the objects and their stories have been consistently engaging and informative. Some standouts have been the carving of the swimming reindeer, the Egyptian clay model of cattle, and the Rhind mathematical papyrus, but it’s awfully hard to choose favorites when the quality has been this good. If I had to pick just one out of what they’ve broadcast so far, it would probably be the Jomon pot episode. This type of pottery changed the way we understood the development of this crucial technology, and the way these objects were revered in Japan thousands of years later is quite wonderful. This particular pot, made some 7,000 years ago, was valued so highly a few hundred years ago that it was lined with gold and incorporated into the tea ceremony.
I’ve been to the British Museum several times over the years, and taken way too many photos there. (A few on my “main” Flickr account, and way too many on my events account.) One thing that’s been cool about the series is that in the first 20 episodes there was only one object that I remember seeing and actually photographed: The statue of Ramesses II up above. He’s huge and pretty hard to miss there next to the Rosetta Stone. Many of the objects in the series have been small and subtle, however, which nicely illustrates the value of a cool program like this. Some objects are pretty remarkable in and of themselves, but others benefit enormously from a guide who suggests we slow down and really look at this stone or that statue. Here MacGregor and his guests help us understand the significance, context, and impact of these objects, and totally make me want to go back to the Museum and seek these treasures out.
There are some other objects in the series that I’ve seen and photographed (such as the Assyrian Reliefs below), but most of them will be new to me. I’m eagerly looking forward to the remaining 80 episodes!