The goal today was to spend most of the day at The British Museum, so after breakfast we took a circuitous path through the shopping district on Regent street, past the Apple store, London, various global stores and boutiques, through crowds of scooters driven by old Mods who apparently never die, and down to the museum.
I am a bit of a museum freak and have always wanted to see The British Museum. When we walked into the front door of The British Museum, I was completely unprepared for the unbelievably amazing torus shape to the ceiling in the Great Court seen in the introductory image. This space was originally open and during the late 1990s was developed with a tessellated glass roof by Foster and Partners along with Buro Happold that covers the entire court inbetween the separate entrances to the building. It is the largest covered space in Europe and is a spectacular and most appropriate space for house of history.
I was also most anxious to see the real Rosetta Stone housed here in London as it is one of the historical artifacts I had long wanted to see before I died. I had seen a copy of it in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, but this was the *real* stone and I had to see it with my own eyes. The Rosetta Stone was crafted in the Ptolemaic era and engraved with both the hieroglyphic and demotic Egyptian scripts as well as classical Greek. When this stone was found, it enabled the comparative translation of hieroglyphic writing and opened up a vast amount of Egyptian history. This image of the Rosetta Stone has examples of the Egyptian demotic script on the left and Egyptian hieroglyphics on the right flanking classical Greek script in the middle. On the Rosetta Stone itself, the ordering of the scripts is Egyptian hieroglyphics on the top, followed by the demotic script with Greek script on the bottom.
Aside from the Rosetta Stone, the British Museum is an amazing repository of historical artifacts from all over the world. The images that follow are a subset of the most memorable or significant artifacts that I have either read about or seen in history books. It was a pleasure and a privilege to be able to see them for myself. I have taken some additional liberties but most descriptions of museum objects are cribbed largely from the identifying plaques associated with the objects.
Bronze Statuette of a warrior on horseback. He once held a spear and a shield, and his helmet was topped by a crest which ran across sideways. Made in Taranto about 550 BC.
Roman, 3rd-1st century BC. It was customary in Greece and Rome for models of parts of the body to be dedicated at shrines of healing gods in the hope of, or as a thank offering for, a cure.
A marble head from a statue of Tiberius Caesar. About AD 4-14.
Silver denarius, about 90 BC.
Bronze statuette of a seilenos. Etruscan, about 300-200 BC.
Colossal limestone statue of a bearded man. Made in Cyprus about 500-480 BC From the sanctuary of Apollo at Idallion. Only the upper part survived. Dressed in Greek fashion, but truly Cypriot in his hairstyle and beard, his size suggests he is perhaps a priest of Apollo, or he may be a prominent worshipper.
Tetradrachm of Rhegium about 450 BC. The facing head of a lion is struck in particularly high relief.
Cosmetic vessel in the shape of a hedgehog. Glazed composition, Late Period , about 664-332 BC.
Late Period, about 664-332 BC A sphinx usually had the king’s head on a lions body, but could also represent a god. This one may represent the god Tutu. It was a fitting on temple furniture or a sacred standard (such as on the barque shown above). In Greco-Roman times, Tutu assumed a protective role.
This falcon-headed deity represents one of the Souls of Pe, protectors of kingship. They were prominent at key royal moments, particularly coronations and jubilees. The pose probably represents a ritual dance.
The Gayer-Anderson cat made of bronze from the Late Period, about 664-332 BC. This fine representation of the cat-goddess Bastet was placed as an offering by a wealthy official, possibly at the principal cult centre of Bastet at Bubastis in the North-East Nile Delta. Catacombs beneath the site have yielded hundreds of mummified cats. The cat wears jewellery and a protective wedjat amulet. A winged scarab appears on the chest and another scarab on the head. The eyes were originally inlaid with precious stone, now lost. The figure was probably tan-colored when made. Its current dark green bronze color is a result of polishing in modern times. The statue is the most famous of Robert Gayer-Anderson’s (1881-1945) collection of oriental art and pharaonic antiquities. From the 1920s, he lived in a 16th-century house in the center of Islamic Cairo, which is now open to the public as the Gayer-Anderson House.
Roman Period, about AD 100-170. This mask is exceptional on account of its realistic modeling. The skull is that of a mature adult, with moderately worn teeth. X-rays have revealed some erosion on the palate, which may be the result of disease.
Skull showing perforation of ethmoid bone to give access to the brain. The ancient Egyptians used to remove the brains when embalming with hooks and wires that they would manipulate up the nose and through the access provided by piercing the ethmoid bone.
Another hedgehog from the 6th century BC.
Marble statue of a youth on horseback from Rome, perhaps 1st century AD.
A human skull forms the base of this mask of Tezcatlipoca, Smoking Mirror, one of four powerful creator gods in the Aztec pantheon. The Aztec believed that the defeat of Quetzalcoatl by Tezcatlipoca marked the beginning of the current era of creation. The emblem of Tezcatlipoca an obsidian mirror, symbolizes his control over the hidden forces of creation and destruction.
Latmul people, Sepik River, Papua New Guinea. 1900-1950. Men’s cult houses dominate latmus villages. They are up to 120 feet in length, with two floors and towering gables at either end, and are lavishly decorated. In a society that once emphasized male warefare and head-hunting, the cult house in an aggressive assertion of power.
Hypnos, a Roman copy of a Greek original from about 325-275 BC From Civitella d’Arna, near Perugia. The personifications Hypnos and Thanatos (Death), were either considered the sons or nurslings of Nyx (Night) or were reared by her as their nursemain. Hypnos was rare in sculpture until the late Classical/early Hellenistic period, and this head is one of many versions of the same original. Hypnos appears with Thanatos on Classical vases, especially lekythoi, but is rare in sculpture until the late Classical/Hellenistic period. Several full-length copies of the statue of Hypnos survive. Given my past history of sleep research, this was a particularly fascinating artifact.
Sarchophagus lid of the Vizier Sisebek from the Twenty-Sixth Dynasty, about 600 BC.
We spent most of our last day in London at The British Museum and afterwards, we walked through the city with no real destination or goal other than to simply experience London from street level and to try and pack in as much local flavor as possible in our last full day in London. Tomorrow we fly back home through JFK and back to SLC.