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The British Museum

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The British Museum, in London, UK, is one of the world's most fascinating museums. It contains so much information about so many of the world's people, the journeys they have made, and how we all ultimately got to where we are today.

One thing that strikes visitors as they make their way around the museum is the similarity - the many things in common - that we today share with our ancestors. And also the similar customs and practises that humans have always shared around the world at any given point in their history. Here are a couple of examples:

  • Entering through the 'rear' entrance, there is a display of Chinese porcelain. One of the artefacts is a 'grave pass' - a painted tablet describing the life of a particular inhabitant of a tomb, her life and deeds and her legal right, under Chinese law, to occupy that tomb. Moving on into the Egyptian display, we find examples of the Egyptian Book of the Dead - documents that were placed with the deceased, describing their life and times, and evidence that they were being buried in proper accordance with Egyptian law. More than four thousand years and thousands of miles separated these two burial traditions, but the similarities between them are striking.

  • In one of the Roman rooms is a display of Roman army artefacts. And one of those artefacts is a 1st Century centurion's boot. An examination of this 2000-year-old army boot, and then an examination of a modern-day boot (perhaps one you're wearing) is quite revealing. The only real difference is the synthetic sole on the modern boot - the rest of the design is pretty much identical.

  • Alongside the boots is an inscribed bronze tablet - a page from a booklet. The booklet is a record of the career of an auxiliary in the Roman army. It describes his career, when he joined, the regiments he served in, his achievements, and where and when he was discharged. This is remarkably similar to the modern-era army logs that perhaps belong to your own grandfathers.

There is an old saying that those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it. However, learning from history - the history of human culture - can help us understand that our differences are fewer than many believe. It can also be a jolly good laugh to go and see some of the things people have put up with throughout the years!

Things to See

The museum is home to thousands of artefacts but there are three that shouldn't be missed:

  • The Rosetta Stone was the key that unlocked the mysteries of Egyptian hieroglyphs. It's a slab of black basalt inscribed by ancient Egyptians with a royal decree praising their king, Ptolemy V. The same inscription is written in three languages; in hieroglyphic, in demotic, and in Greek - thus enabling people to translate ancient Egyptian texts into modern languages.

  • The Elgin Marbles are the bas relief sculptures that used to adorn the Acropolis in Athens and were smuggled out of Greece by Lord Elgin in order to preserve them. The Elgin Marbles are a major bone of contention between the UK and Greece.

  • The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. It's a monumental marble tomb of King Mausolus of Caria1 in Asia Minor and only fragments remain, most of which are in the British Museum.

A Mini-guide

The nearest London Underground tube station is Tottenham Court Road, on both the Northern and Central Lines. Come out of the station at the New Oxford Street exit and walk along New Oxford Street until you reach Museum Street. Walk along Museum Street for a few minutes, and you'll see the museum looming up beside you.

The British Museum is very big, and it would certainly take you a couple of days to see all the exhibits. However, there are so many things to see that it is well worth the time. You can pick out your favourite era, people, location or creation (religious icons, time pieces, and so on) and go straight to it. But you would, of course, be missing out on other things. A far better idea is to proceed slowly, carefully observing as you go along, letting yourself be amazed and fascinated and even educated by the activities of human beings over the last few thousand years.

The café inside is exorbitantly expensive and it's recommended taking a walk outside to one of the nearby pubs or cafés - there are plenty of them around that area, and it gets you out into the fresh air. As the museum charges no official entry fee2, you can wander in and out as much as you like. There are very few places to rest if you are tired or infirm, unless you feel like wrestling a security guard for his seat. But be warned - they fight back. Otherwise though, they are perfectly helpful.

Above all, if you open your mind, a trip to the British Museum can be a truly rewarding experience.

1It was Mausolus who gave the word mausoleum to the world.2Although you are invited to donate a suitable amount to help towards its maintenance.

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