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15 December 2010 @ 08:09 pm
British Museum Friends Open Evening  
Monday night was a British Museum Friends Open Evening - so we decided to make life easier for ourselves and stay over, thus making a 2 day visit to the museum :) Started off a little late on Monday morning but still got to the museum at about 2pm. We started in the Egyptian sculptures gallery, and I think J spent a couple of hours just looking at the stuff in there. I took some pics in there (coz I had the better camera with me this time) and then looked at the rest of the Assyrian reliefs. These were actually more interesting than the ones we'd looked at on Thursday as they weren't just Kings & protective spirits. There was a whole set of carvings showing lion hunts - with superbly detailed lions in particular. These also showed the lions being released for the King to hunt and then the dead lions (and other animals) being carried back by the servants. And there was a room with carvings showing a (successful) siege of an enemy city. This had the whole thing taking place at the same time in the same panel - so there were soldiers and siege engines scaling the walls, as well as people coming out of the city to go into exile & other people being impaled (presumably the more important soldiers who didn't get to be exiles)!

After that we headed off to the Travelodge we'd booked a room in - it was only about 20 minutes walk away, very convenient, but rather noisy as we were directly next to the lift and overlooking the road, which was a shame. Anyway, we checked in then headed back to the vicinity of the BM to have a swift pint before the evening began - we went to the Museum Tavern as it was there. It turned out to have a nice selection of beers - J had Christmas Cheer (which I think was an Adnams beer) and I had Butcombe Bitter (he won, his was much nicer than mine which was a touch sharp for my tastes).

Then it was time for the evening. We'd booked for two gallery talks - first was one on The Royal Cemetery at Ur, given by Sarah Collins (who is the curator for the early Mesopotamian gallery) and the second one was on The Sutton Hoo Treasure: A Reintroduction, given by Sue Brunning (who said she was in charge of the re-display project they're just starting for the Sutton Hoo stuff). So we inadvertently had a bit of a theme of "dead people", but also a theme of "thank goodness it was found by an archaeological team that were ahead of their time". In both cases I think we knew the broad sweep of what the talk covered already (as we've looked at both galleries before (the Ur one recently) and have visited Sutton Hoo itself a couple of times). But there were lots of fascinating details and things we'd never noticed or had pointed out before. In particular in the Ur one was that the people in that civilisation only had bitumen as a natural resource - all the other materials used to make the objects on display were obtained by trading their agricultural wealth for the components (like the lapis lazuli & gold). And so that might explain why it's agricultural animals that are significant in their art, being so important. Collins also mentioned that since some book was published in August she's been inundated with requests from fruitloops that the BM should DNA test the remains of one of the people buried in the Royal Cemetary as this will show that we're all descended from aliens ... even leaving aside the obvious nutjobbery of this there just aren't even enough fragments of (poorly preserved) bone left, the soil of Iraq in that area is salty and bad for bones. And yeah, nutjobbery (she was politer in her phrasing that that, tho).

In the Sutton Hoo talk Brunning managed to make pattern welding make sense to me (in a very simplified fashion) - and I couldn't help but like her, her speciality is swords! Her talk very much focused on what the objects could show us about the people who'd used & made them - so pointing out the wear pattern on the sword hilt, so you can imagine the man who'd used the sword standing with his hand on his sword. She was also emphasising that Anglo-Saxon England wasn't "the Dark Ages" - it was a wealthy & civilised country, with trading links running as far afield as India & Sri Lanka (the garnet in some of the items came from there). The design of the helmet also showed strong links to Swedish society at the time (and she pointed out the dragons on the helmet, which I think I've had pointed out before but had forgotten about).

And that filled up the whole of the evening! Afterwards we headed off to get some dinner - we'd decided to eat afterwards because then we take a chance on somewhere more interesting because we wouldn't be in a hurry. We decided on Bi Won Restaurant - a Korean restaurant that we'd walked past a few times. As we'd never had Korean food before we picked a set menu & had a Korean beer each. We really liked it :) We had a Korean miso soup, followed by a selection of battered & fried things (like cucumber or fish - the only one I didn't much like was the tofu), followed by Panfried Glass Noodles with Assorted Veg (a chow mein equivalent), followed by BBQ marinaded beef which was cooked infront of us on a grill set into our table (!) and we ate it by wrapping it up with rice, sauce & side dishes in lettuce leaves. All very tasty, and nice friendly staff who didn't laugh at us when we had to ask what things were & how they worked ;)

After a slightly unsettled night's sleep we got up promptly yesterday & headed back to the museum. We got breakfast on the way at a little cafe called Cafe Trio D'Or, J had a fry up & I had a bacon sandwich and we had a very large cup of coffee each. Nice & tasty & set us up well for a morning in the museum.

J went to look at the Book of the Dead exhibition again, and I went to see the room I think of as the "living cultures room" - the real name is "Living and Dying". Instead of being about history, like most of the rooms in the museum this one is about different cultures & their attitudes to common human themes - like health, protection from harm, death, respect for ancestors etc. Each case has some things from the history of a particular culture, and some things from current modern culture in that area. There's also the Easter Island statue that the museum has, and an installation that is more art than anything else - a case with 2 lives as shown by the pills/medication that they've taken during them (a typical male & female western life). I think my favourite things in there were the New Zealand carvings both old ones in wood & new ones in acrylic displayed as a united object. And the Ghanan coffins in the shapes of things from people's dreams or aspirations in life (like a camera). As well as the Easter Island statue, which is very imposing.

J still hadn't finished in the exhibition, so next I moved on to the Enlightenment gallery - this displays objects in a similar fashion to how they would've been displayed in the early days of the British Museum (in the Enlightenment era). It's a meta-museum gallery - it's talking about the history of museums and of scientific/historical thought. I think my favourite object was a hand-axe that had been discovered with the bones of an elephant, and the discoverers had assumed that this must be an elephant brought by the Romans when they invaded England, and thus the axe would be the weapons used by the Celts to fight off the Romans. Whereas it's now known to be 400,000 years old. There were also loads of "collections" of things, that era was characterised by a desire to sort things by type & try to find the underlying principles of these types. And while it's funny to see how they got things wrong, it's also interesting to see the first steps on the way to our own mindset (and to be reminded that what we think is obvious now may be laughable in 300 years time).

By that stage I was pretty museumed out, and was glad to meet back up with J and get some lunch. We just ate in the museum cafe (a mistake, I think - it was OK food, but we could've had better elsewhere). And then J was raring to go and look at more stuff. My brain was full & my feet were tired, so I was a bit less keen ;) We did spend a bit of time looking at the European Renaissance stuff, and then the Sutton Hoo things again, before heading back home.

In retrospect we should probably have either left straight after lunch (which J didn't want to do) or left it till 7pm or so (which I wasn't keen on), coz the traffic home was hellish. We got to the A12 at rush hour and it sucked. I think another time I might bring along a book (possibly not an improving one) and just chill out in the cafe in the morning, while J looks at things, so that I'm relaxed and ready to see more in the afternoon :)

Still, it was a good couple of days :)
 
 
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