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Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Fourteen Treasures to See at the British Museum If You Have Two Hours Before You Go Anywhere Else

You could literally spend hours at the British Museum. It contains a breathtaking collection of millions of objects that paint the portrait of British exploration. While some objects may be controversial, it is hard to argue that the history and significance of many items are unmatched. If you have two hours and you don't know what to see, use our guide to significant objects on display on the first and second floors.


Fourteen Treasures to See at the British Museum If You Have Two Hours Before You Go Anywhere Else

When the British Museum opened in 1753 it was the world's first national public museum, free (as it remains still today) to all "studious and curious persons." Be prepared however, it will be crowded by many curious tourists and students of all ages, so plan your time well.  


Before you start your tour take a minute to absorb the magnitude of the Great Court.  The graceful glass and steel roof manages to embody the classical nature of the objects in the museum but capture modern culture.  This beautiful space was originally intended to be a garden and eventually a reading room was added to the center in the 19th century.  At a cost of around $150 million, the space was redesigned for public use and became known as the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court when it was opened by Her Majesty the Queen on December 6, 2020.  What you see walking under the criss-crossed patterned glass roof, appearing like a cloud filled sky is a two-acre open space where you could fit nearly two football fields.

Now on to our favorites!



1. Rosetta Stone (Room 4) 


Fourteen Treasures to See at the British Museum If You Have Two Hours Before You Go Anywhere Else


This is such a significant piece of history! The key that unlocked the secret of hieroglyphs was discovered in Egypt by members of Napoleon's army in 1799 near the town of Rashid (Rosetta). Ultimately the French linguist Champollion deciphered the stone that displays a decree issued by Ptolemy V in 196 B.C. The decree is inscribed in three languages: hieroglyphs (Egyptian priests) Demotic (Egyptian common people) and Ancient Greek. How did it get to England? It became the property of the British under the terms of the Treaty of Alexandria after the defeat of Napoleon at Waterloo. It has been on display at the British Museum since 1802. While there are many more examples of stones like the Rosetta Stone (there are many at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo) inscribed in the three languages, this was the initial one realized as the key to deciphering hieroglyphics and a milestone for Egyptology.

We love traveling with masking tape because you never know when you may need a quick repair. This masking tape will forever remind you of your visit to the Rosetta Stone and there are lots of designs available. Click on the photo below to learn more at Amazon and support our blog. Thank you so much!


2. The Bust of Rameses the Great. (Room 4)


Fourteen Treasures to See at the British Museum If You Have Two Hours Before You Go Anywhere Else


This bust is only a section of a larger statue. If you cannot make it to Egypt or the Louvre anytime soon, spend time in the Egyptian collection in Room 4 and the mummy room on the second level of the museum. Made of granite, the bust of the Egyptian Pharoah that probably chased Moses and the Israelites through the desert, weighs 7.5 tons.

3. Colossal Scarab (Room 4)




Does this remind you of something from an old horror flick? Imagine seeing a beetle this size! The scarab beetle is one of the enduring symbols of ancient Egypt, representing rebirth and associated with the rising sun. This green diorite sculpture is nearly 6 feet long and is one of the largest representations known.

4. Nereid Monument (Room 17)


Fourteen Treasures to See at the British Museum If You Have Two Hours Before You Go Anywhere Else

You won’t miss this monument en route to the Elgin Marbles so take a minute to enjoy this beautiful architecture. After Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world, being “Greek” was very very cool.  It is not surprising that the owner of this tomb built a heroic shrine for himself that looks like an ionic temple.  It would be easy to see this structure sitting on the Acropolis, however it actually comes from ancient Turkey.  The figures that you see are sea nymphs, daughters of the sea god Nereus, riding over the waves on sea creatures.  They are thought to have escorted he soul of the deceased on the journey to the afterlife.  Each figure is balancing on the head of a dolphin or sea monster being swept along the sea.


4. Elgin Marbles (Room 18)




 Probably the most controversial group of objects at the British Museum! A collection of stone sculptures and inscription more properly known as the Parthenon Sculptures acquired by Lord Elgin in Athens, Greece between 1801 and 1805, were in more recent times requested to be returned to Greece. The British Museum is open about the controversy at the museum with pamphlets detailing their stance. In a nutshell, Greece has disputed the British Museum's ownership of the sculptures, maintaining that Lord Elgin removed them illegally while the country was part of the Ottoman Empire. The museum maintains that Lord Elgin obtained all the necessary permissions from Ottoman officials in Athens to removed the sculptures for the nation and in fact saved the sculptures from destruction before the Ottomans used them any further for target practice or from general destruction when the Parthenon was used as a storage place or gunpowder that guess what: exploded! RxTIP: take time to view at least of few of the stories represented on individual marbles as you walk around (it gives you a better idea of what they meant - they were not just for beauty) and make sure to take a 360-degree view of the pediment sculptures like the reclining Dionysus and the emotion in the horse's head, or the folds in the fabrics.

Fourteen Treasures to See at the British Museum If You Have Two Hours Before You Go Anywhere Else



5. Human Headed Winged Lion Statues (Room 6)



These incredible statues were a striking feature of the palaces and temples of antigen Assyria (modern Iraq).  Stone mythological guardians were meant to protect from demonic forces.  These winged lions have five legs so that when viewed from the front, they are standing firm and when viewed from the side, they appear to be striding forward against any evil.  Between the leg is inscribed the record of the king’s titles, ancestry and achievements. It has been suggested that these composite creatures embodied the strength of the lion, the swiftness of birds and the intelligence of humans.  The helmet with horns indicates that the creature is divine.

6. Assyrian Lion Hunt Reliefs (Room 10) 



Don't miss these beautiful reliefs! Originating from the ancient Mesopotamian City of Nineveh, near modern-day Mosul in Iraq, these reliefs were carved around 880 BC. Though not for modern tastes, the royal lion hunt was a very ancient tradition in Assyria and the earliest depiction of hunting lions dates back to 3000 B.C. Assyrian texts record how plagues of lions obstructed the roads and harassed shepherds by attacking livestock which was their justification for these hunts. The lighting and display of the reliefs accentuate the beautiful details well, so enjoy. RxTIP: If you want great photos of any particular reliefs try the portrait mode settings on your phone or camera if you have them. You won't be disappointed! RxTIP: If you are a dog lover, take time to look at the depiction of hunting hounds near the entrance. Those hounds look like mastiffs!

7. Hoa Hakananai'a (Room 24)



Think you will never make it to Easter Island? Take a look at this statue of Hoa Hakanania'a which you will recognize immediately. It is in amazing condition having been spared from the elements for so many years. It arrived in England in 1869. Though relatively small compared to some that you may see on the island, it is considered to be the typical form and is quite large in our opinion. RxTIP: Be sure to take a look at the carvings added to the back which distinguish this statue from others. The carvings are associated with the island birdman cult. Due to its pristine condition in 1957 it was described as "without a doubt, the finest example of Easter Island sculpture."


8. Mechanical Galleon (Room 39) 




Constructed around 1585 in Germany, this elaborately and precisely designed table ornament is made of gilded brass. It would have displayed a range of automated movements - rolling forward on its wheels, emitting smoke from the cannons, and playing music - as well as functioning as a clock. Just about every figure in this clock has a function. Look for some of the specific figures such as the Holy Roman Emperor sitting on his throne in the center who's officials rotate around him, or the men in the lookouts who double as chimes. Unfortunately, this clock no longer works, but wouldn't you love to see it when it did?

9. Lewis Chessman (Room 40) 




Fashioned from Walrus Ivory and full of personality, these chess pieces were made in the Middle Ages (12th century). The Lewis chessmen caused a sensation when they were unearthed on the Isle of Lewis in the Scottish Hebrides in the 1830s, and are without a doubt the best-known Scottish archaeological find. their very existence questions the economics of the time, the Viking impact on Scotland, the struggle the Norse people had in fully adopting Christianity, and the dominance of the Norse world on the region until well into the Middle Ages.

The search is on for the four remaining missing pieces. The distinctive pieces should be easy to identify, and recently became even easier after a different looking Lewis Chessman was sold at auction. Even though the recent find is made of ivory as well, it has a distinctly darker color. The previous owners were unaware of what they possessed. Read the story here:

A Viking-inspired Lewis Chessman piece sold for around $1 Million at auction.

10. The Sutton Hoo Ship Burial (Room 41) 




Have you ever watched the show Vikings? You will feel that you are seeing Ragnar's or King Ecbert's possessions! In 1939, a landowner in Suffolk, England asked an archaeologist to investigate the largest of several Anglo-Saxon burial mounds on her property. He made one of the most spectacular discoveries of all time. Inside was the imprint of a large ship and at its center was a burial chamber packed with treasure. These artifacts are popularly believed to have belonged to an Anglo-Saxon King from the 7th century. This is an entire exhibit showcasing some of the artifacts with the ornate helmet being the most significant. It is one of only four complete Anglo Saxon Helmets to survive. A full reconstruction is nearby to see what it probably looked like during the seventh century. RxTIP: Look at the the helmet's mouth, nose and eyebrows and how they form the image of a flying beast. What do you think it may be? We think it may be an eagle.



11. The Lycurgus Cup (Room 41)





This extraordinary cup represents an outstanding ancient achievement that still remains a mystery to modern scientists.  When lit from the outside the cup looks green but when lit from the inside or the backside the cup looks red.   This cup reminded the ancient Romans of the ripening of grapes from green to red.  What gives the Lycurgus cup it’s cool optical effect is light reflection and scattering by a very small concentration of gold and silver particles dispersed in the glass.  The cup is the best preserved examples of a caged cup from the Roman Empire, and is the only intact example of a narrative cage that tells a story.  This particular cup tells the story of the King Lycurgus, who is famous for his persecution of Dionysius, the god of wine. Walk around the cup to see the different colors.  Imagine what it may have looked like drinking wine from it!  More recent evidence has further suggested that the colors may change depending on what type of liquid is inside.

12. The Flood Tablet (Room 55) 




Did Noah's Ark really exist? This Assyrian tablet tells the story of a plan by the gods to destroy the world by means of a great flood. The hero of this story, like Noah, builds a large boat to rescue his family and every type of animal. When this tablet was translated in 1872, you can imagine that it caused quite a stir. Written in cuneiform, the first known written language, from Mesopotamia in the 7th century B.C., it is believed that this story was told for nearly 2000 years before being recorded here.

13. The Unlucky Mummy (Room 62)




Was the Unlucky Mummy responsible for the sinking of the Titanic? Strange occurrences have been said to eddy around an ancient Egyptian artifact, known as the “Unlucky Mummy,” since it was taken from Egypt to Europe in the 19th century. Of course a mummy didn’t sink the Titanic. Shipping records show that there was never a mummy on board the ship, nor did any Titanic survivor testify to sharing a lifeboat with a mummy. The Unlucky Mummy, as this artifact is famously known, is in the possession of the British Museum, and it undoubtedly remained safe and sound in the museum quarters during the time of Titanic‘s ill-fated maiden voyage across the Atlantic. But how did such a story become so widespread? Multiple untimely deaths surrounded those who came in contact with the mummy including a reporter who wrote about the Unlucky Mummy shortly before departing on ill-fated final voyage of the Titanic and was never seen again.

14. Mummy of Katebet (Room 63) 




This entire room is filled with mummies and take the time to enjoy seeing all of the displays, but Katebet was a Chantress of Amun, an Egyptian performer during rituals. Not only the mummy has been meticulously preserved, but also her accoutrements dating to 1300 B.C. She was an older woman who was entombed in Thebes and had only two teeth when she died. Unlike most royal mummies like King Tut, her brain was not removed. Look at her hair wrapped in linen and other decorations such as pure tin, copper foil and gold leaf.



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