History of the World in a 100 Objects

History of the world in 100 Objects with Neil MacGregor

What a brilliant idea – to create a radio programme to share some of the British Museum’s fascinating collection of treasures in A History of The World in a 100 Objects.  It was an Aztec serpent made of turquoise that really caught my imagination.  I decided to find out more about this unusual snake on a recent visit to London.

In the magnificent open space of the British Museum was a poster advertising the exhibition along with a sinuous statue of an exotic-looking female. It is very easy to find your way round the Museum but I had mistakenly assumed that all the objects would be placed in one room. In fact, they are scattered throughout the building and you would need many visits to take in even a fraction of this world-class collection.

History of the World in a 100 Objects

The Aztec Serpent, made sometime between 15th & 16th century, is in Room 27 along with many other intriguing Mexican artefacts.  “It is carved in wood (Cedrela odorata) and covered with turquoise mosaic.The serpent is associated with several Mexica deities including Quetzalcoatl (Feathered Serpent), Xiuhcoatl (Fire Serpent) and Mixcoatl (Cloud Serpent) …” Apparently the people and culture we know as ‘Aztec’ referred to themselves as the ‘Mexica’, pronounced ‘Mé-shee-ka’.

Tara, a Buddhist Goddess, stands tall and graceful in the Asia Room 33 enticing observers to come closer and receive her blessing.  She was created in Sri Lanka 700-750 AD.  “This image is a fine example of figural bronze-casting using the lost wax process.  This sculpture has also been gilded subsequent to casting.” She represents compassion and mercy and was a focus for meditation.

The British Museum, Bloomsbury, is the oldest museum in the world.  It was founded in 1753 to house a collection started by physician Sir Hans Sloane and its artefacts span 2 million years of world history and civilisation, including Prehistoric & Roman Britain, Medieval, Renaissance, Asia, Ancient Egypt, Classical Greece & Rome, Oriental Art, Africa, The Americas and SO MUCH more …

The Information Desk is very helpful and the guide books are excellent.  There are plenty of places to eat and drink. The Book Shop has books specialising in ancient history, archaeology and art history, many titles written by the Museum curators.  Children have their own Family Shop – I bought my son this very quirky yellow plastic bath duck with the head of a sphinx.  There are enough inexpensive souvenirs, replicas and quality reproductions to fill the suitcases of even the most ardent cultural shopper…

… but it is for room after room of our wonderful world’s history that this Museum is in my Top Ten London Must Visit sights. You can hear BBC R4 ‘A History of the World in a 100 Objects’ at www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld and find out more about the British Museum here.

A version of this article first appeared in my Wandering Educators blog here