The British Museum was established in 1753, but it didn’t open to the public until 1759. The museum is older than the United States! It’s open daily from 10 AM to 5:30 PM (8:30 PM on Fridays) and the best part? It’s free! There are millions of artifacts in the museum’s collection, but there was one in particular that I was incredibly excited about seeing: the Rosetta Stone.
Since the Tottenham Court Road tube station was closed, I took a short walk from the Holborn station to get to the museum. The entrance is reminiscent of Greek temples and you walk through these tall Ionic columns to get inside. Walking straight through will eventually lead you to the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court, a massive central room with shops and cafes and entrances to several different sections of the museum. I rented an audioguide for £5 (~$7.72 USD) and headed straight to the Egyptian galleries.
The Rosetta Stone was in the center of the room by the entryway that I came in from, but it was crowded with children from a school group so I decided to head to one end of the hallway and work my way to the other side, passing by the Rosetta Stone again on the way. Roman and Greek art and sculpture don’t fascinate me as much as their Egyptian counterparts. One day, I really do hope to visit Egypt. Top things I would do there: See the pyramids, ride a camel, and ride a boat on the Nile.
After seeing various statues, hieroglyphs, and several sarcophaguses (sarcophagi?), I returned to the Rosetta Stone to take a closer look. I’m not quite sure why I totally fanboyed over what is essentially a rock, but it’s also a rock with so much historical importance that it is worth fanboying over (I limited myself to only purchasing a magnet of the Rosetta Stone instead of many of the other knick-knacks and souvenirs devoted to this artifact).
For those who need a refresher, the Rosetta Stone is not just a language software; It was the key to understanding the meaning of Egyptian hieroglyphs. The stone, created in 196 BC, features text written in Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script, and Ancient Greek, which helped with its decipherment. Scholars at first thought that hieroglyphs may be symbolic, with each symbol representing a certain word. When the stone was discovered in 1799, it helped people realize that the symbols actually represented sounds and that the hieroglyphs were a mostly phonetic writing system.
Here’s another small tidbit related to globalization for you to ponder over: Egypt has been asking for the Rosetta Stone to be repatriated back to their country for a long time now, but the British Museum believes that because the stone was acquired in a different time period with different values and because the museum serves everyone and not just citizens of the nation the object is in, it should not have to send it back. Several other museums such as the Louvre and the Metropolitan Museum of Art have backed this statement.
I decided to move on from Egypt and explore some of the other galleries as well. I moved through Greece and Rome pretty quickly and also spent some time in the Gallery of Clocks and Watches. It was all your typical museum stuff, but I then found myself at another piece that the museum loves to highlight in their merchandise: the Lewis Chessmen.
Honestly, I hadn’t heard of the Lewis Chessmen before finding out about it on the British Museum website, though it is billed as “the most famous chess set in the world”. Discovered in 1831, these chess pieces were found in the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. The pieces were made of walrus ivory, but fear not, animal warriors, as a description in the museum says that damaged ivory was used indicating that the walrus was long dead when the tusks were collected. There were 93 pieces discovered, with 82 owned by the British Museum and 11 owned by the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh.
Another item in the museum’s collection that I thought was really interesting was King Ashurbanipal’s Flood Tablet, which tells a story that is very similar to that of Noah’s Ark in the Bible. The tablet talks about how the gods were sending a flood to destroy mankind but a man named Ut-napishtim was warned by one of the gods to build a boat, which eventually landed safely on top of Mount Nitsir in Assyria. This tablet dated to the 7th century BC.
After taking a quick break for lunch, I went to a few other rooms including one that focused on the Enlightenment and one that featured an Easter Island statue known as Hoa Hakananai’a.
I didn’t feel like going through every single one of the museum’s galleries, I had spent several hours inside the museum already, and I had seen everything that I had wanted to see, so I decided it was time to go and move on to my next stop for the day.