The British Museum and Library

Friday, June 22nd

Happy Birthday, Kevin!  You’re OLD!  Heehee!  Today was a day that Kevin and I were really looking forward to –  the British Museum!  We chose to do it today because 1.  It was supposed to rain all day (and mostly did) and it’s inside, and 2.  They’re open late on Fridays.  We headed out bright an early, and got to the museum nice and early.  We tried to develop a bit of a plan of attack, which was immediately stricken by massive crowds, so we headed upstairs instead.  It’s a very interesting museum, for several reasons.  Some of the galleries have quite clearly been renovated to be more up to date, especially some of the really popular ones, like the Egyptian rooms, but others definitely date from times gone by.  Some, like the room dedicated to the history of the museum itself, are cool that way.  It’s a giant room with glass front shelves to the ceiling, with an truly enormous collection of natural history and artifacts from every stage of human existence.  It felt very much like some sort of Darwinian explorer- naturalist’s collection.  Others are a bit old in the “haven’t been updated since the 80’s” sort of way, but despite fading displays, the fact remains that the collection of the British Museum is amazing.

Outside the British Museum

The museum is very cool looking on the inside.

The museum about the museum. I like this room. All shelves of artifacts and other awesome stuff


Some of it is cool in that it is totally unique –  we saw the Rosetta Stone, the Lindow Man, a hand axe believed to be one of the earliest ever made from Olduvai Gorge, and so on.  Some of it is cool because it’s hard to imagine just how old it really is, like the mummies preserved so well you can tell what color their wrappings were and so on.  The mummies, btw, were pretty cool.  One of them came in 5 coffins, the largest of which was probably big enough to comfortably hold 3 or 4 people lying side by side.  HUGE!  Some of it, it’s hard to imagine how they got it there in the first place.  There are things like entire pillars out of Ancient Egyptian temples.  I can just imagine some British explorer in a pith helmet trying to get that thing loaded onto a ship – “Pish, tosh and nonsense!  It’s just a bit of souvenirs!  Something to remember the old country by.  It’ll load up a treat, there’s a good chap!”  There are also these gigantic entrance facades from some sort of Assyrian city or something, and again, I can’t imagine the truck/ boat/ plane/ people large enough to carry them.  Probably the most mind boggling is the Roman mosaics.  They are, mostly, wall mounted in these gigantic frames that take up the entirety of a stairwell.  How do you move something like that?  In pieces?  One tesserae at a time?  Must be quite the job.

Giant Lion-y city guard-y thingies!

We saw the Parthenon as well, or rather, the bits of the Parthenon Friezes.  Those were probably less impressive than they should have been, just because they built this simply enormous room to hold them all, and they’re a bit dwarfed by their surroundings.  Also, they’re pretty beat up.  They were removed to the British Museum following something that nearly destroyed the building, and the guy was given emergency permission to take what he could, so that it was not further destroyed or robbed.  Unfortunately, he could have come a little sooner, as there are plenty of friezes missing heads and things, with the little tag that says that Lord such and such, or Mr. so and so has it in their private collection since 18-whatever it was.  Which brings us to another thing Kevin and I found a bit funny about the British Museum – the stuff they stole.  The prime example of this is a bit of a stone Codex, which is a small cylinder of stone, carved with cuneiform on the outside.  It’s believed by many to be one of the first writings about the rights of man (which it’s apparently not, really) but in any case, this thing has come to be of great importance in Iran.  They put it on their coinage and such, and the tag with the Codex had an explanation of how, several years ago, it was lent to the Iranians, to be put on display, but then they took it back, and gave them a replica instead, so they could continue to care for it.  Now, some of this sort of protective attitude, I believe.  I mean, with the unrest in some of these places, who can say what will happen to some of the treasures in their museums. But there are definitely things in the British Museum whose original owners are probably more than capable of taking care of them.  It’ll be interesting to see what happens in the future.

The Parthenon Room

One of the Parthenon Statues

A helmet from Sutton Hoo, a very important archaeological find

Another thing that was fascinating in the Museum were the hoards.  A hoard is a very specific thing in the UK – if you find a certain amount of metal artifacts or Neolithic artifacts, you have to tell the government.  Now, that still ends very well for you, because even if you are not allowed to keep your findings, you are still paid half the value of the collection as assessed by people who are not trying to buy it from you cheap.  The other half goes to the owner of the land you found it on.  Some of the things people have found is CRAZY, and reading the ways in which people find this stuff is wild.  For example, a 9 year old was digging, and unearthed a silver platter two feet across.  Someone was plowing, and hit a sack full of metal (mostly silver) household goods from the 15th century.  People have found hundreds of Roman coins, the remains of a Roman jewelry store, Anglo Saxon arms and armor, just about anything you could think of.  There were entire rooms dedicated to hoards some no one dug up.  All I can say is, if I ever actually lived in England, I’d totally own a metal detector.

We took a break halfway through the day to get some lunch, and also to visit the British Library.  The collections at the British Library are not open to the public, much in the same way that you can’t go check anything out of the Library of Congress.  However, the British Library does have a display of rare, interesting and valuable books.  Like… the Magna Carta.  Yeah.  And one of the Gutenberg Bibles, and Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches, and original copies of “Yesterday” where the Beatles were writing in the lyrics.  There was also Shakespeare’s First Folio, and a bunch of illuminated texts and Bibles from all over the world.  Pretty cool stuff.

By the time we headed back to the British Museum, it was already well afternoon, so it’s a very good thing they were open late!  There were a few of the Greek rooms that were closed for renovation, but we did make it through the entire museum!  When we finally left, it was after 7, and we were hungry!  We decided to head back toward the tube station, and see if we could find anything along the way.  Lucky for us, right next door to the Holborn tube station was an AMAZING Korean restaurant.  At the street, it’s literally just a door; the whole restaurant is in the basement.  So good it was!  They brought burners to the table, and cooked right there, and we even got seconds on this noodle dish because we’d eaten the first one so fast.  It made a pretty perfect birthday dinner for Kevin, and both of us were stuffed to the gills, but totally happy.  Couldn’t have asked for a better ending to the day.


Literally, it’s this door, and then the tube station is out of the picture to the right. So tasty!

Comments are closed.