Do you remember the excitement of being in school and going on a field trip? You would trek out on adventures with your teacher, classmates and obliging volunteer parents to see some treasure of your local area. (Mine included the Fort Worth Stockyards and Kodak Film Processing Center. Whee!) Well, today I’m whisking you away on a field trip. We are leaving our normal everyday setting here on Aspiring Kennedy of children, English clothes and cakes and delving straight into the wondrous place that is the British Museum.
I realized the other day that I’ve never actually posted about the British Museum on my blog, which is weird as I have spent so much time there over the past years. It’s located within a minute from my office, I was there all the time for my masters degree, and both Tyler & I teach in it now for various courses. And yet, the only things I ever really post are glimpses of it as I walk to and from work. I suppose the truth is: even though I may sound like a British Museum know-it- all, the more I’m there the more I realise how little I actually do know. There’s so much to learn!
But for most people coming to visit the world’s second public museum (the first was the Ashmolean in Oxford, just in case you ever need it for a pub quiz), I can guide you around the highlights of the British Museum.. and to make it easy to swallow, you’ll only have to read 2-3 sentences about each of the items.
If you’re looking to find the best things to see at the British Museum, well, wait no longer. During a snowy day last week, I ran in between lecturing and picking up Viola from school for a special whirlwind tour to show you the things that I think you’ll like best. Admission is free for all and you can view all ten departments and collections upon walking through those glorious and massive doors.
THE HIGHLIGHTS OF THE BRITISH MUSEUM
PARTHENON FRIEZES | Also known as the controversial “Elgin Marbles.” Only half of the sculptures of the Parthenon still survive and London actually holds the majority of them in the British Museum, some lay on the bottom of the Mediterranean sea being lost in transport, and the rest remain in Athens. Who is the rightful owner has been a topic of debate for a long time, but regardless of where you think they belong- they currently have UK citizenship.
WHERE TO FIND IT | Greece: Parthenon, Room 18, Ground Floor
ASSYRIAN SCULPTURE AND BALAWAT GATES | These large winged human-headed lion sculptures guarded the entrance to the royal palace of King Ashurbanipal II. Not only do they look cool and feel like walking onto a movie set, they also hold Biblical significance when you realize that Shadrach, Meshach & Abednego would have sat on them as they waited for their turn to see the king; in fact, if you look closely on the right hand side, you’ll see where people carved a small game to play as they waited.
WHERE TO FIND IT | Assyria, Room 6, Ground Floor
ROSETTA STONE | This stone allowed us to decipher Egyptian writings for the very first time- though I still prefer to enjoy Billy Crystal’s theory about hieroglyphics actually just being a cartoon of a cat named “Sphynxy” in When Harry Met Sally. This famous rock wasn’t always placed behind a glass case-- it used to be uncovered in the museum, where visitors could touch and trace the writings on the stone. (If you’re finding yourself longing to touch and feel the stone, wander to the hall of replicas where they have a life- sized one you can touch.)
WHERE TO FIND IT | Egypt, Egyptian sculptures, Room 4, Ground Floor
SUTTON HOO | A woman named Mrs. Edith Pretty asked an archaeologist to come explore a large burial mound on her property. What he found was incredible: an imprint of a 27-metre long ship and a burial chamber with treasures inside. This elaborate discovery probably once belonged to a king, though to be accurate the mystery still remains today about who exactly he was.
WHERE TO FIND IT | Europe: The Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock Gallery, Room 41, First Floor
BASALT STATUE | This colossal statue, perhaps better known as one of the statues from Easter Island, is known as Hakananai’a, or “Stolen and hidden friend”. It represents an ancestral figure, probably to express ideas about leadership and authority. It also reminds me of Night At The Museum: “Me want gum-gum dumb-dumb.”
WHERE TO FIND IT | Africa, Room 24, Ground Floor
PHARMACOPOEIA | This item may not be one of the most famous you’ll read about in most guides- but I can’t help but include it here. In this installation in the British Museum, titled “Cradle to Grave,” shows the medicine and pills that the average person takes over the course of their lifetime. The research is staggering...over 14,000 drugs are prescribed to a human in their lifetime (in the UK). It said that we spend more money on treating indigestion than cancer. This fascinating installation compares how different cultures treat illness and is well worth the read.
WHERE TO FIND IT | Themes: The Wellcome Trust Gallery, Room 24, Ground Floor
MUMMIES | The British Museum holds the largest collection of Egyptian objects besides Egypt-- including mummies! The Museum holds over 120 human mummies in their collection, and over 80 of them are from Egypt. A favorite of mine is the Gebelein Man B, who was preserved in the sand and is shrunken with skin and hair still persevered after thousands of years… and no doubt a chilling reminder of our own mortality.
WHERE TO FIND IT | Ancient Egypt: Egyptian Death and Afterlife in Roxie Walker Galleries, Room 62-63, First Floor
Of course... no visit would be complete without a sweet treat from the café in the Great Court. (Highly recommend those raspberry + white chocolate muffin.)
If you’re traveling to London and would like to book a private tour with Tyler, he offers a fantastic “The History of the Bible though the British Museum” tour. He’s going to maybe kill me for posting that since he mainly only does them for my private clients, but I think they’re too good to miss!
Find more of my favourite spaces and places in London in my travel guide.
*images original to Aspiring Kennedy