The British Museum

12 Nov

To the absolute surprise of no-one, I fell deeply and madly in love with London about two minutes after falling oh-so-gracefully out of my over-night bus from Paris. My friend Steph, who met me at Victoria Station, can attest to how coherent I was that morning. (Not very.) Nothing a pot of tea and a full English breakfast couldn’t fix. Then, off to my number one must-see: the British Museum.

I was tired as all get out, but there’s nothing like being able to see the Rosetta Stone or the Flood Tablet or the Standard of Ur or the Queen’s Headdress in person. I realize that this is a history nerd thing. I refuse to feel ashamed for my enthusiasm about historical artifacts dating back more than 2,000 years.

If you’ve got time to kill, I highly recommend the “A History of the World in 100 Objects” podcast put on by the British Museum and BBC Radio. It’s a really interesting podcast and I spent half of my time in the museum just wandering around going “Hey, it’s King Den’s sandal tag!” and “Does anyone know where the Sphinx of Tarqho is?”

Some highlights from my wanderings, with a heavy bias towards Egypt and Mesopotamia*:

Statue of Ramses the Great.
AKA Ozymandias, King of Kings, “look on my works, ye mighty, and despair”.

Close-ups of hieroglyphs.

As opposed the Louvre, the British Museum had mummies galore.
Like, three whole rooms devoted to them. I thoroughly approve.


A papyrus illustration, probably from the Book of the Dead, judging by the scene. Starting from the far left, Anubis is leading the recently dead into the Underworld. Next, he weighs the persons’ heart against a feather on some scales, the crocodile-headed goddess Ma’at waiting on hand to eat any sinners. Thoth, the bird-headed dude with a scroll, notes down who passes, and Horus, bird-headed dude number two, leads the honorable dead to his father, Osiris (not pictured).**

The most important piece of as-yet translated Sumerian cuneiform – the Flood Tablet. This is from the Epic of Gilgamesh, and tells the story of a massive flood sent to destroy the world by vengeful gods.  This was written a few hundred years before the story in Genesis.

I first saw this headdress in my Developing World Civilizations class sophomore year. I was so taken with it that I actually drew it in my notebook. I was pleased to see it on display here.

One side of the Standard of Ur. (I would heartily recommend listening to the podcast!) This scene depicts Ur at war. The king is the largest figure on the top row.

The flipside of the Standard, Ur at peace. The top show the king and his courtiers feasting, the other sections show a bucolic harvest scene.

A Greek vase showing Oddyseus and the Sirens.

At this point, Museum Fatigue had set in. I actually, honest to Buddha, walked out of the Elgin Marbles*** without seeing more than three or four friezes. I can usually manage about four hours in any given history museum without blinking, but excuses have to be made when I’m sleep-deprived. I met up with Stephanie again for lunch and we spent the afternoon wandering around central London and sitting in Hyde Park.

I had to borrow the hat and gloves from Steph. London gets cold.

Up next: a minor history of the monarchy. I mean, you all desperately care about the Tower of London, right?

* Upon further review of my assorted photos, I’ve come to the conclusion that I managed about one semi-unblurred shot to about ten terrible ones. This is kind of ridiculous, you guys. I mean, I’ve taken photography classes before. I have had this camera for over a year now, so I’ve figured out most of the buttons. I know about lighting, how to keep myself still, etc. It just appears that I am fundamentally incapable of taking a nice photo. Sorry Gramma, it looks like your mad camera skillz have skipped yet another generation.

** Is it sad that I remembered all this off the top of my head, but for the life of me still have problems with basic math?

*** Yet another set of historical artifacts with a problematic past. Oh, colonialism. At least the British Museum is upfront about the controversy and has a pamphlet explaining their position on why they should remain in the UK and not return to Greece.


One Response to “The British Museum”

  1. Karen November 13, 2012 at 2:46 am #

    I love your nerdy facets. That didn’t skip your generation. I always go to gardens and museums when I travel. So enjoy every moment, you’ll remember this for the rest of your life. Glad you had fun. How hard can it be to hold your breath and tuck your arms against your sides and take a clear picture? Lean against the wall if you have to. Don’t use your flash in big spaces, try to brace yourself and hold your breath. Camera lesson for today.

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