The British Museum

It was supposed to rain today so I decided to spend my time indoors, and what better place to go than the world-famous British Museum, which has been around since the 18th century. It wasn’t raining when I headed out this morning, but it was overcast, with dark clouds. Nevertheless, I decided to walk to the museum because (a) I like walking, and (b) there was a strike on the subway line that takes you there from my hotel and this way I could avoid the crowds. It took about 40 minutes to walk there and I got there right about opening time.

It’s a massive museum, not as large as the Metropolitan Museum of Art of the American Museum of Natural History, I think, but still quite big, and then central hall they have is very impressive. There were certain things that I wanted to see: stuff from the Assyrian empire, Egyptian empire, to say nothing of all of the headstones and pieces they have from the Parthenon in Athens. It was really cool to be able to see all of these things up close.

One interesting thing about the museum is that many of the objects are placed right there where you can easily touch them. There are signs all over saying not to touch them, but you could if you wanted to and much to my dismay, many people completely ignored the signs right in front of them and touched the various artifacts, some of which were nearly 3,000 years old.

In fact, I have to say that I was rather disappointed with the majority of the visitors to this museum (most of whom must be visitors to this country, like myself). Adults and children alike seemed more interested in photographing themselves and their friends and family in front of each and every one of the objects, without any regard for what they were photographing. Rarely did I see people reading the display cards in front of the items (perhaps they all have some innate knowledge for what they were looking at that I lack). To most of the people surrounding me, getting their picture taken standing in front of a 2,700 year old Assyrian statue was just like getting your picture taken with Ronald McDonald. When I stood before these objects, however, I could feel their age. These were marvels of their time, so much so that we collect and preserve them today. Would the people who slaved away creating these carvings and statues have ever thought that their labor would have outlasted them literally thousands of years?

You can take pictures inside the museum, but they are for personal use only and they ask that they not be posted online. I only took a handful of pictures, which I can share with friends who are interested, via email. One object I did photograph was the first object I saw when the doors into the west wing finally opened: the Rosetta Stone. People crowded around it snapping thousands of photographs, but how many people knew what they were looking at, and how many were told that simply must see the Rosetta Stone without even knowing what it was. It was smaller than I had pictured it in my mind, but it was no less impressive.

Perhaps I’m just too sentimental over artifacts of history. I’ve read so much history that I have a sweeping sense of the continuity of it all, how we today who drive our BMW’s and watch our Sony HD TV’s, are linked to those men and women who, thousands of years ago, built the pillars of temples, carved their folklore in stone and told us what their lives were like. I wonder if there was someone back in those days, who walked among the relics of their ancients, and wondered at the marvels of their ancestors and the general lack of appreciation of their contributions to culture.