It’s been a number of years since we visited the British Museum and I wanted to see the Sutton Hoo / Anglo Saxon collection. The Museum is only about 15 minutes away from our hotel. We’d considered going to Oxford, but it’s an hour away and (again) it looks like it is going to rain, so the Museum won out. The Museum is open every day and is free. Sunday was really crowded.
Visiting the Museum is like an overwhelming abundance of everything. You can’t visit and expect to grasp the entirety, it’s just too big and there’s too much history, so many exhibits.
Entering the Museum initially takes you into the Egyptian exhibits, then to Greece.
I can’t begin to appreciate all of the exhibits on hand in any of these rooms as my level of knowledge just isn’t sufficient. From massive, room filling sculptures to an entire temple, sarcophagus, etc. if it’s Egyptology you’re interested in, it’s here.
One of the “prizes” of the Egypt exhibits was the Rosetta Stone.
Discovered in 1799, the Rosetta Stone is inscribed with three versions of a decree issued at Memphis, Egypt in 196 BC during the Ptolemaic dynasty on behalf of King Ptolemy V Epiphanes. The top and middle texts are in Ancient Egyptian using hieroglyphic and demotic scripts, while the bottom is in Ancient Greek.Generally, Hieroglyphics were used for monumental inscriptions and decorative texts, and Hieratic/Demotic was used for administrative texts which placed more importance in content than appearance, which were written by hand, and which needed to be written quickly. The decree has only minor differences among the three versions, so the Rosetta Stone became key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs (which had become a lost language), thereby opening a window into ancient Egyptian history and deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphics.
The Parthenon room is filled with pieces of sculptures taken from the Parthenon. Built nearly 2,500 years ago as a temple dedicated to the Greek goddess Athena, it was for a thousand years the church of the Virgin Mary of the Athenians, then a mosque, and finally an archaeological ruin. The building was altered and the sculptures much damaged over the course of the centuries. The first major loss occurred around AD 500 when the Parthenon was converted into a church. When the city was under siege by the Venetians in 1687, the Parthenon itself was used as a gunpowder store. A huge explosion blew the roof off and destroyed a large portion of the remaining sculptures. The building has been a ruin ever since. By 1800 only about half of the original sculptural decoration remained. Between 1801 and 1805 Lord Elgin, the British ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, acting with the full knowledge and permission of the Ottoman authorities, removed about half of the remaining sculptures. There’s an ongoing “discussion” between the Greek government and the British Museum about Greece’s desire to repatriate these sculptures.
You can visit one “room” which is focused on one part of one era, like Anglo Saxon England. Room 41 on the second level is a substantial collection on its own, covering the period AD 300-1100.
The centerpiece of the collection is the Anglo Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo, Suffolk, probably the most important single archaeological discovery in Britain.
This decorated and ornate Anglo-Saxon helmet was found during a 1939 excavation of the Sutton Hoo ship-burial. It was buried around 625 and is widely believed to have belonged to King Rædwald of East Anglia; its elaborate decoration may have given it a secondary function akin to a crown.
When the initial archaeological excavation was done, the helmet, buried with a 27 meter long ship was found in 500 fragments. The helmet has been reconstructed twice, but the process is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle without all the pieces and without knowing what the final picture is supposed to look like. It took eighteen months to do the second reconstruction.
Here’s a replica intended to show what the reconstruction might have looked like at the time of burial.
The core of the helmet was constructed of iron and consisted of a cap from which hung a face mask and cheek and neck guards. The cap was beaten into shape from a single piece of metal. On either side of it were hung iron cheek guards, deep enough to protect the entire side of the face, and curved inward both vertically and horizonatally.Two hinges per side, possibly made of leather, supported these pieces, allowing them to be pulled flush with the face mask and fully enclose the face.
We moved on to a couple of the next rooms, one of which exhibited clocks and how the technology advanced to make them more accurate. Not every clock was designed for high accuracy. This clock, modeled after a ship, would be set on a dining table and moved down the table before firing its canons.
With it now being 3:30, w had another destination in mind, the All Hallows by the Tower Church. Of course, now it’s drizzling a bit.
The oldest surviving church in London, it sits within sight of the Tower of London and the Thames River.
The Church was founded by the Abbey of Barking in 675AD, 300 years before the Tower of London. In 1666 the Great Fire of London started in Pudding Lane, a few hundred yards from the church. All Hallows survived. owing its survival to Admiral William Penn, father of William Penn of Pennsylvania fame, who had his men from a nearby naval yard demolish the surrounding buildings to create firebreaks. The church suffered extensive bomb damage during World War II and only the tower and the walls remained. The church was rebuilt after the war and was rededicated in 1957. We arrived late in the afternoon and did not get the chance to visit the crypt beneath the main level.
Stepping out of the church and looking to the left is the Tower of London.
We’ve been to the Tower several times before, including the Ceremony of the Keys (twice) so we won’t be going again today. We did look into booking tickets for the Ceremony of the Keys, but it’s booked a year out.
Heading back to the hotel now, I can see the Shard in the distance
and an interesting architectural contrast between he old and the new
Remember that we visited the Sky Garden in the initial days of this trip. It’s located in what some call the “Walkie Talkie” building on Fenchurch Street because of its resemblance to a Walkie talkie.
Also on the way back (no rain now) we passed the Monument to the Great Fire of London.
The Great Fire of London swept through the central parts of London from Sunday, 2 September to Thursday, 6 September 1666. It is estimated to have destroyed the homes of 70,000 of the city’s 80,000 inhabitants.