A heartfelt plug for “A history of the world in 100 objects”

Statue of Ramesses II at the British Museum
Ramesses II at the British Museum

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!

And the world just keeps rolling along
Detail from Assyrian Reliefs in the British Museum

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More fun (with skulls) in London


We just finished two consecutive day trips to London (Friday and yesterday) and I’m thoroughly tired, and full of undigested photos. This fellow, one of the few I have processed, is from the Egyptian mummification exhibit at the British Museum (Rooms 62 and 63).

On Friday we started down in Greenwich. It was our first time through the Docklands on the DLR — it would be nice to walk those canals and take photos — and our first time to the Royal Observatory and the Prime Meridian. I wish we’d had more time there – it was a beautiful day and there was a ton of cool stuff one could see. Time was tight, though, so we zoomed off to the British Museum before rush hour hit, and spent the rest of the evening there.

While WeatherGirl wandered the museum, however, Sub-Evil and I snuck off and bought tickets for Avenue Q at the Noël Coward Theatre for the following night. He’s been keen to see that ever sense we got here, and it was nice to finally make that happen, but it did mean two consecutive days into London, which is frankly pretty tiring.

Yesterday Sub-Evil and I started at the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology on the UCL campus. Sub-Evil is very into Egyptian history, writing, artifacts, etc., so he really wanted to see this. It’s a very cool collection, but pretty desperately in need of a new home, with the collection crammed into old victorian cabinets and spilling down an emergency exit staircase! Next was the British Library, which was just tremendous! The King’s Library alone was worth the (free) price of admission, and the display of the treasures (Magna Carta, illuminated manuscripts, handwritten scores, drafts, diaries, and letters by amazing folks) was really wonderful.

After all that we grabbed some dinner and then headed off to Avenue Q! We both had listened to the soundtrack about a zillion times, so there weren’t a lot of surprises. The production was tons of fun, however, and watching the puppet masters sing, dance, act, and run the puppets at the same time reminded me of the line about Ginger Rogers doing everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels :-).

Now we pack and organize, for tomorrow we’re off to Methwold Old Vicarage for our first stay in a Landmark Trust property!

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