Tag: British Museum

British Museum

British Museum

British Museum, Photo by JMorton

British Museum

Did you Know?

The British Museum is the first public museum in the whole world.  It first open its doors in 1759, free to visit for the studious and the curious.

The museum has some of the most important and relevant exhibits in the whole world.




El Dorado at the British Museum

Europeans have long been fascinated by the legend of El Dorado, the lost city of gold. Over the years many excavations have been carried out which were mostly justly rewarded with ample amount of artefacts including gold, ceramics and stone necklace.

The legend has it that the El Dorado which literally means “the golden one” refers to the actual ritual of initiation whereby a newly elected leader, covered in powdered gold and wearing a massive amount of golden ornaments, would dive in the Lake Guatavita in Bogota. He would then emerged and be proclaimed the new chief of the Muisca people of present day Columbia.

It was also customary for the Muisca tribe to throw in gold gifts into the lake to please their god.

This legend so tickled explorers that they have tried draining the lake several times over. But nature has a way of protecting itself! Heavy rainfall would fill the lake faster than it could be drained. 🙂 So they have not been able to explore the bottom of the lake, I think!

Lucky us Brits, we do not have to go traipsing or diving into the Lake Guatavita as some of the beautiful and intricate works of art of the Muisca people are now being exhibited for a limited period at the British Museum.

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Japanese Erotic Art At The British Museum

Explicit and beautifully detailed, these works, produced between 1600 and 1900, have continued to influence manga, anime and Japanese tattoo art. The exhibition sheds new light on this taboo art form within Japanese social and cultural history. Parental guidance advised for visitors under 16.

Shunga  is a Japanese term for erotic art. Most shunga are a type of ukiyo-e (floating world), usually executed in woodblock print format. While rare, there are extant erotic painted handscrolls which predate the Ukiyo-e movement. Translated literally, the Japanese word shunga means picture of spring; “spring” is a common euphemism for sex.
The ukiyo-e movement as a whole sought to express an idealisation of contemporary urban life and appeal to the new chōnin class. Following the aesthetics of everyday life, Edo period shunga varied widely in its depictions of sexuality. As a subset of ukiyo-e it was enjoyed by all social groups in the Edo period, despite being out of favour with the shogunate. Almost all ukiyo-e artists made shunga at some point in their careers, and it did not detract from their prestige as artists.

Classifying shunga as a kind of medieval pornography can be misleading in this respect.

The pictures below are especially selected for their slightly tamer nature.  For the more explicit ones, go to the British Museum where around 170 original prints are on display.

See you there 😉

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Viking Ship Going the Ikea Way to the British Museum

Wow!  This is something for the 2014 diary.  Just the thing to see during the Holy Week bank holidays!

It will arrive flat pack.  My thoughts and best wishes to the people who would assemble it back to its former glory! 😉


26 September 2013 Last updated at 13:49

Viking ship to arrive at British Museum in ‘flat pack’

By Tim MastersEntertainment and arts correspondent, BBC News

The Longship (Roskilde 6). The largest Viking ship ever discovered.
The 37-metre warship was built in southern Norway around 1025, and deliberately sunk in Denmark in the mid-11th century

The longest Viking ship ever found will arrive at the British Museum in a “flat pack” from Denmark early next year, curators have revealed.

The 37-metre ship is the centrepiece of the museum’s Vikings: Life and Legend exhibition which opens in March 2014.

“It’s essentially an enormous Meccano set which can be put together,” curator Gareth Williams told the BBC.

“Start Quote

As you might expect of a Scandinavian-designed ship, it comes flat packed”

Gareth WilliamsCurator

It is the British Museum’s first major exhibition on Vikings for more than 30 years.

Currently on display in the National Museum of Denmark until November, the timbers of the 1,000-year old ship will be packed up in individual boxes, shipped to the UK and re-assembled for display in the British Museum’s newly-built Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery.

“As you might expect of a Scandinavian-designed ship, it comes flat packed,” Mr Williams said at Thursday’s launch event.

“It’s massive by the standards of the time,” he added. “It’s longer than the Mary Rose.”

Experts are expected to take two weeks to put the ship back together when it arrives in London in January.

Silver-inlaid axehead in the Mammen style, AD 900s. Bjerringhøj, Mammen, Jutland, Denmark.  Iron, silver, brass. L 17.5 cm. © The National Museum of Denmark
A silver-inlaid axehead (AD 900s)

Known as Roskilde 6, it was excavated from the banks of Roskilde fjord in Denmark in 1997. About 20 per cent of the original timber survives and it is displayed on a steel frame that reconstructs the shape of the original vessel.

It dates from around AD 1025, the high point of the Viking Age when England, Denmark, Norway and possibly parts of Sweden were united under the rule of Cnut the Great.

The ship will be displayed alongside Viking artefacts from the British Museum’s own collection and elsewhere in Britain and Ireland.

The exhibition aims to reflect the role of Vikings as both raiders and traders.

“The Vikings were very keen on acquiring gold and silver,” said Mr Williams. “Their most favourite means of expressing power and wealth and status was basically ‘bling’.”

The Vale of York hoard, AD 900s. North Yorkshire, England. Silver-gilt, gold, silver.
The Vale of York Hoard was jointly purchased by the British Museum and the York Museums Trust under the 1996 Treasure Act

The exhibition will include recently excavated skeletons from a mass grave of executed and beheaded Vikings near Weymouth in Dorset.

“It’s a reminder that the Vikings were not always the invincible warriors of legend,” Mr Williams said.

He said visitors should not expect to see any Viking helmets with horns. Those were apparently the invention of 19th Century story illustrators.

Also on display will be the Vale of York Hoard which was discovered – by a metal detector – near Harrogate in 2007. It includes 617 coins, six arm rings and a quantity of bullion.

British Museum director Neil MacGregor said: “This world which we think of as essentially of violence and brutality is also a world of extraordinary sophistication and cultural achievement.”

Ipplepen Iron Age settlement ‘one of most significant’ finds

This sounds really fascinating. I would like to go on a dig. I don’t mind having a little trowel to carefully sift through the soil for archeological remains.

I understand that it can be painstaking but the reward of finding an object so old with echoes from the past can be exhilarating.

One one when we have more time in our hands, Peter and I could probably do something like this. Maybe 😉


Ipplepen excavation
About 40 villagers from Ipplepen have been helping at the excavation

An Iron Age settlement unearthed in Devon has been described as one of the most important finds of its kind.

It was prompted by the chance discovery of Roman coins in fields at Ipplepen, near Newton Abbot about four years ago.

Archaeologists, who have recently started examining the site, said it is the first of its kind in the county.

The excavation is being funded by the British Museum, Exeter University, the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and Devon County Council.

Sam Moorhead from the British Museum said he believed the Ipplepen site was “one of the most significant Roman discoveries in the country for many decades”.

The site was discovered by local metal detector enthusiasts Jim Wills and Dennis Hewings, who contacted archaeologist Danielle Wootton, the Devon finds liaison officer for the PAS.

‘Electric atmosphere’

Ms Wootton said local people had been involved in the project, with about 40 volunteers helping at the excavation site.

“When we announced the find at a community meeting about three years ago, the hall was absolutely packed with local people and there was an electric atmosphere,” she told BBC News.

“The bit we’ve excavated at the moment is prehistoric – it’s Iron Age – but we have picked up traces of some Roman Romano-British field boundaries,” she said.

Ipplepen excavation
The British Museum said the Ipplepen site was one of the most significant Roman discoveries in England for decades

“It’s probably going to take us a very long time for us to fully understand the nature of the settlement and how long it was occupied for.

Ms Wootton said the important discovery should be credited to Mr Wills and Mr Hewings who had painstakingly recorded “every scrap of metal” they found.

“Jim and Dennis have been absolutely first class in recording what they’ve found and it’s a result of them being responsible with their metal detecting that we’ve discovered this site,” she said.

Mr Wills said the oldest coin he found dated back to 117BC,

“The very first Roman coin I found strangely enough – and this is out of more than 100 coins we found subsequently – is still the oldest of all the coins,” he said.

“I’ve been detecting for many years, but it’s always thrilling to dig up something you recognise is really important.”

Part of the settlement excavation site will be open to the public on Sunday.

Piltdown Man Anniversary Of A Clever Hoax

Did you know that today is the anniversary of the exposure of one of the greatest paleoanthropological hoaxes in history.  In 1912 at Barkham Manor, Piltdown, East Sussex, England. (I used to holiday regulary on the picturesque  East Sussex coast, sadly I never tripped over any prehistoric relics!)

In 1908 a skull was found in the gravel pit at Piltdown  and according to amateur British  archeologist George Dawson workmen had previously found skull fragments.

Dawson went to the site to excavate and found further fragments of the skull and took them to  Arthur Smith Woodward  who was keeper of the geological department at the prestigious Britih Museum.  Woodward was greatly interested n the finds  and accompanied Dawson to the site,  where although the two worked together between June and September 1912.  Dawson alone recovered more fragments of the skull, and half of the lower jaw bone.

Piltdown Man skull Hoax

The skull unearthed in 1908 was the only find discovered in situ  with most of the other pieces found in the gravel pits’ spoil heaps.

Woodward announced that a reconstruction of the fragments indicated that the skull was in many ways similar to that of a modern human, except for the the part of the skull that sits (Occiput) on the spinal column.  The brain size was  was about two-thirds that of a modern human. He went on to indicate that save for the presence of two human-like molar  teeth, the jaw bone found would be indistinguishable from that of a modern, young Chimpanzee. Woodward, with the  British Museum’s reconstruction of the skull,  proposed that Piltdown man represented the sought after  evolutionary missing link between apes and humans, since the combination of a human-like cranium with an ape-like jaw tended to support the notion then prevailing in England that human evolution began with the brain.

The Royal College of Surgeons using  copies of the same fragments used by the British Museum produced their own reconstruction which resulted in an entirely different model, one that in brain size and other features resembled a modern human. This reconstruction, by Prof. (later Sir) Arthur Keith , was called Homo piltdownensis in reflection of its more human appearance.

Woodward’s reconstruction included controversial cannine  apelike teeth  In 1913, Woodward, Dawson and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest and friend of Dawson who had trained as a paleontologist and geologist, began a systematic search of the spoil heaps specifically to find the missing canines. Teilhard soon found a canine that, according to Woodward, fitted the jaw perfectly. A few days later Teilhard moved to France and took no further part in the discoveries. Noting that the tooth “corresponds exactly with that of an ape”, Woodward expected the find to end any dispute over his reconstruction of the skull. However, Keith attacked the find. Keith pointed out that human molars are the result of side to side movement when chewing. The canine in the Piltdown jaw was impossible as it prevented side to side movement. To explain the wear on the molar teeth, the canine could not have been any higher than the molars. Fellow anthropologist Grafton Elliot Smith , sided with Woodward, and at the next Royal Society meeting claimed that Keith’s opposition was motivated entirely by ambition.

However and interestingly in  1913, David Waterston of Kings College London published in the prestigious journal Nature that his conclusion was that the sample consisted of an ape mandible and human skull  Marcellin Boule a French paleontologist liewise concluded the same thing in 1915 In 1923, Franz Weidenreich examined the remains and correctly reported that they consisted of a modern human cranium and an orangutan jaw with filed-down teeth.

It took another thirty years for the mainstream scientific community to concede that this analysis was the correct one.

In November 1953, Time magazine  published evidence gathered by Kenneth Page Oakley, Sir Wilfred Edward Le Gros Clark and Joseph Weiner proving that the Piltdown Man was indeed a forgery. The evidence   demonstrated that the fossil was a composite of three distinct species. It consisted of a human skull of medieval age, the 500-year-old lower jaw of a Sarawal orangutan and chimpanzee  fossil teeth. A clever forger  had created the appearance of age by staining the bones with an iron solution and chromic acid. Microscopic examination revealed file-marks on the teeth, and it was deduced from this that someone had modified the teeth to a shape more suited to a human diet.

The Piltdown Man hoax gained  credibility, at the time of its discovery as at that time the scientific establishment believed that the large modern brain preceded the modern omnivorous diet, and the forgery provided exactly that evidence. It has also been thought that nationalism and cultural prejudice played a role in the less-than-critical acceptance of the fossil as genuine by some British scientists.  European had expectations that the earliest humans would be found in Eurasia but the  British, it has been claimed, also wanted a first Briton fossil  to set against fossil hominids found elsewhere in Europe.

Charles Dawson was thought to be the main forger as he had previous evidence against him regarding other archaeological hoaxes he perpetrated in the decade or two prior to the Piltdown discovery.

Excavation under way at Piltdown (Charles Dawson is to the left)

Various names were also put forward for those involved in the hoax, even the author of  Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was mentioned. At the time, he apparently had a grudge against the scientific community who derided his interest in spiritualism.

Ironically and undoubtedly,  Conan Doyle’s master creation would have solved the mystery!

The identity of the Piltdown hoaxer(s) may remain forever unknown – it remains one of the most  intriguing scientific hoaxes of all time and still facinates.