Learn the History of the World in 100 Objects


Photo: BBC

Every night on the radio, just at dozing-off-to-sleep time, the director of the British Museum, has been telling a story about the most important artefacts in history. One per night for 15 minutes. He describes the object, its context and importance to mankind throughout the ages.

Now, after 6 months, we are finally, and regretfully, up to number one hundred. His choice of the object which best represents the ingenuity and aspirations of the world in 2010: a solar-powered lamp and mobile phone charger.

This object has been chosen to reflect the ingenuity, and the challenges we face in the twenty-first century. The lamp can provide light as well as charge a cellular phone and is powered by a small solar panel connected to it. With 8 hours of sunshine, 100 hours of lamp light will be provided.

There are 1.6 billion people across the world without access to electricity. This will let people study and work and socialise when there is no daylight. And using solar rather than kerosene is better for health and the environment and is cheaper.


Photo: BBC

It is a fascinating choice when you consider the other 99 objects that Neil MacGregor has discussed. He started with this Egyptian mummy of a priest who was buried in a coffin, within a second coffin. An examination of its body using CAT scans and X-rays revealed that he suffered from arthritis and osteoporosis (way back in the third century BC).


Photo: BBC
This sculpture of two swimming reindeer is one of the oldest works of art in the British Museum. It was carved from the tip of a mammoth tusk and was on display: it is barely 6 inches long and the detail is staggering.

From there he crossed the time line of our world, over 1.8 million years, describing objects such as the sphinx of Tarharqo (680BC), gold coins of Abd al-Malik (AD696) and Tang Tomb figurines (AD728). Each was brought alive in his tales of their history and culture. They can be heard on the BBC site.


Photo: BBC

This penny, struck in 1903, has been defaced with the slogan 'Votes for Women' over the portrait of King Edward VII. At the start of his reign women couldn't vote and this was a way of spreading the message.

What makes it all so wonderful is the contrast between the strangeness of the objects from the past and their relationship to our experiences in the present. MacGregor compares then and now and manages to keep the uniqueness and mystery of each period while still making it relevant.

There is also a book of the objects which would make a wonderful Christmas present. Or you can read the condensed spoof of it in today's Guardian newspaper.

More on Museums
Allotment Garden at British Museum
Tree Artwork Celebrates Darwin's Birthday
Swedish Museum's Homage to Wood

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