Exploring the history of humanity through objects – new show at Museum

IS IT possible to pack two million years of human history into one room? The British Museum, the Western Australian Museum and the National Museum of Australia seem to think so.

Statue of Mithras, 100–200 CE, Italy, Trustees British Museum

Statue of Mithras, 100–200 CE, Italy, Trustees British Museum

Launched today, “A History of the World in 100 Objects from the British Museum”  is based on the notion of “the distinctive power of the things that we make and the stories they tell, from Africa and the Americas to Asia and Europe.”  The British Museum is a rich repository of such ’things’.

The show  is based on the BBC radio series by former British Museum director Neil MacGregor, who can, tight now, be heard on Radio National outlining the functionality and beauty in the very first object on show, the stone axe.

Here are some of the extraordinary highlights:

Six carved chess pieces, from left, a pawn, queen, king, rook, knight and pawn

Six carved chess pieces, from left, a pawn, queen, king, rook, knight and pawn

The Lewis chessmen,  among the most celebrated medieval objects in the British Museum’s collection. Carved from walrus ivory and probably made in Norway, they were found in a sandbank in Scotland;

A model llama made of polished gold, a rare survivor of the Inca Empire, once one of the largest empires in the world;

A bronze head of Augustus showing the first emperor of Rome. Augustus used his likeness to assert his personal authority across Europe and North Africa. More than 250 of his official portraits survive and they are remarkably similar, showing a young man in his prime; and

A marble statue of Mithras, in eastern dress, piercing a bull’s throat while a dog and a snake lap up the blood and a scorpion attacks the bull. The cult of the god Mithras enjoyed a wide following across the Roman Empire.

In short, as the NMA says, the exhibition allows viewers to “explore the history of humanity — how we have shaped the world, and how the world has shaped us.”

“A History of the World in 100 Objects from the British Museum”, at the National Museum of Australia, Until  January 29, bookings to nma.gov.au

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