Sunday, March 06, 2011

London - British Museum and 'The Heretic' by Richard Bean

Although I have been in the British Museum on several occasions, they diligently rearrange their exhibitions, so it is always a joy to discover items new on display and re-discover old friends.
Therefore, to not bother you with too much archaeology, just a couple of photos from this year's most delectable objects on display.

First some old friends which might be new to you. First the Franks Casket:

It has nothing to do with the Germanic tribe of the Franks but rather got its name from Sir Augustus Wollaston Franks, an English antiquarian who from a mere assistent in the British Museum soon became responsible for acquiring for the British Museum. Since the Eton student was not very poor himself he donated a lot of objects to the British Museum. One of them is the whale bone casket from Northumbria. On its left hand side, which you can see here, a scene from the discovering of Romulus and Remus is depicted, which stands as a symbol for the Roman Catholic church since the twin brothers were founders of the city of Rome.

The next old friend is a detail from the Sutton Hoo helmet.

The Sutton Hoo helmet comes from the early 7th century ship burial in Sutton Hoo, Suffolk. Now if you think 'I knew it, the Vikings did have horned helmets' I must dissappoint you. Sutton Hoo, although being a ship burial is Anglo-Saxon and definitely 150 to 200 years prior to the first Vikings in Britain (which is officially 793, starting with the raid on Lindisfarne).

A third well known object is the Ringlemere cup, a gold cup found on Ringlemere farm in Kent. In comparison with the other five existing cups in Europe we can assume a date of 1700 to 1500 BC whereas the burial in the barrow itself is dated to approximately to 2300 BC suggesting that the cup was either a later votive offering or from a burial which was made into the old barrow which was pretty much ploughed down.

Of course I can't miss the opportunity to show you this rock carving. It's from the Val Fontalba, France and just shows how consistent in their topics rock art of the alpine arc is. A couple looking at it couldn't see the depicted cattle without a bit of help, can you?

How different in style is in contrast the depiction of a long-horned cattle from Sudan. The rock boulder was rescued from inundation due to the new dam at the fourth Nile cataract by the Meroe Dam Salvage Project.

The most impressive object however was the antler mask from Star Carr. Star Carr is an early Mesolithic site in North Yorkshire. The site was located at the former lake Flixton and the peat building preserved a lot of bone and organic artefacts. The lake was used for extensive deposits which is not uncommon in prehistory (nor is it in recent times, just think of the coins that are thrown into wells and fountains). Among these deposits was the famous antlermask from Star Carr.

We believe that it belonged to a kind of shaman and was worn similar to the head gear of this Siberian shaman, well that is if you turn the antler mask upside down *hehe* even museum curators are not perfect.

This statue was called 'Pan riding a panther' although I can't see him ride this little panther. It is from the 2nd century and was made in Thapsus, Tunisia (modern Ras Dimas). You may know the place from the Battle of Thapsus where Cato and Scipio fought against Cesar.

And to add a further Roman statue I give you the marble statue from the great court of the British Museum, a first century statue from Rome itself, the youth on horseback (which actually makes sense this time, but riding a horse is disproportionally easier than riding a panther)

Since you get very hungry from watching all these objects I went to Mildreds, a small vegetarian restaurant near Piccadilly Circus. I had borlotti bean and sunblushed tomato sausages served with pumpkin and sweet potato mash, broccoli and apple cider jus together with a apple-beet-and-ginger juice. It was awesome which you can't see because I've got only one of my infamous mobile pics:

I finished the day with 'The Heretic', a play at the Royal Court Theatre. The woman next to me didn't like the play at all, but I think it had a very important message that will stay topical for some time. It might even be promising in becoming a classic despite the fact that the second half of the play was a bit weird and chaotic.

The play is about a climate researcher who published an obviously not politically correct article about the Maldives where she couldn't find a sea level rising. Ill-reputed as a climate-change-denier she gets bullied and eventually suspended because she refuses to follow her superior and ex-lover's university's policies.
'I'm a scientist. I don't believe in anything' is her motto and she stays with it unwavering. In the end she discovers together with him that a collegue at a different university abused statistics to produce the desired results.
Most reviews think it's a play about climate change but actually it isn't or rather climate change was just used as one example to show the inability of whole nations to rationalise. Instead people find it much easier and socially rewarding to 'believe'. Therefore we can find this in politics, religion, prejudices, racism, and and and. The list can go on. Instead of looking at the facts and making up our minds ourselves, we just 'believe' anybody. It's easy, doesn't need a lot of courage or backbone. The play ended hopeful and jovial, whether it will end this way with the rising number of fundamentalistic believers is doubtful. In my opinion a deep play. Deeper than most critics look into, but then, most of them are believers anyway.

The Heretic (Royal Court Theatre): the discovery


  1. the second "well-known" artefact looks japanese.
    and the fourth "well-known" artefact looks like a frog

  2. You are right, now that you mention it ... samurai armours indeed included some horned helmets :)

    but a frog??? the right upper line is a natural crack, so you have to exclude that one