The British Museum

London arguably has the best museums we have visited anywhere along our trip, and it’s not just that they have acquired (plundered?) an unbelievable number amazing artifacts. It’s the accessibility of everything. The museums are free, you can take pictures, and you can walk right up to original pieces. While I have to admit that it would be nice, even the right thing to do, for native countries to actually house their own cultural artifacts, Britain has done a tremendous job of allowing the public to be educated by these cultures. I’m not convinced that they are protecting the artifacts any better than other museums we have visited, but they certainly have them organized and presented in a manner that makes the public want to learn.

I visited the British Museum on three occasions, and it was packed each time. On two of the visits the whole family cruised the facilities together. There are free activity booklets and kits for kids. On our first visit there was a hands-on table where we all got to handle biface hand axes from the Magdalenian Period. Incredible! As usual I was most drawn to the Egyptian, Greek and Roman displays. We saw the Ramses head whose statuesque body we visited back in Luxor at the Ramesseum. The highlight from these areas for me was the room displaying the Elgin Marbles from the Parthenon in Athens. The number of pieces the museum has that Elgin removed from the Parthenon back in 1806 blew me away. They are beautifully arranged in a manner that sort of reconstructs the layout of the Parthenon. But if I had never been to the Parthenon this would not have been very evident. Wikipedia has a good article about the marbles and their controversial stay in the British Museum (Elgin Marbles). I for one would love to see them all displayed together in the new Acropolis Museum under construction in Athens. Not only does it seem to be the right thing to do, but also it makes good archaeological sense to have them all together for study and interpretation.

Other highlights for me included the Assyrian collections from Nineveh and Nimrud as well as the Babylonian and Sumerian collections from Mesopotamia. Essentially what you find in the Assyrian collection are several hallways containing all the engraved wall sections from the palaces unearthed at Nineveh and Nimrud. Both of these cities were Assyrian powerhouses during the 9th through 5th centuries BC. The relief carvings on these walls are incredibly detailed, and in just looking at them you learn a lot about the daily life and beliefs of these people. My favorite pieces in the museum, aside from the Elgin Marbles, were in the Babylonian room. The color, detail, and antiquity (2600 BC) of the Standard of Ur, the Ram in the Thicket sculpture, and the Ur Game board are breathtaking.

British Museum Highlights

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