The British Museum is a rich treasure trove, filled with artefacts of cultures and civilisations from across the globe and throughout history. The collection is vast and diverse, with more than 8 million relics – from the prehistoric body of Pete Marsh and the treasures of Sutton Hoo to Egyptian sarcophagi and the Elgin Marbles to Samurai armour and Inuit anoraks – some of the greatest artefacts of human life.
The Museum is housed within an immense building, with the façade of a neo-classical temple, centred around a covered courtyard with a modern glass roof. Strolling into the galleries leading from the courtyard could be a walk into Ancient Greece, Aztec Mexico, Shogun Japan, the Benin Empire or Regency Britain. And as a bonus to the shoestring traveller, entry to everything except special exhibitions is free.
The main reason for my visit to the British Museum was to catch the exhibition Vikings: Life and Legend*, with its central show piece of Roskilde 6, the fragmented remains of a 37-meter long longship discovered buried in the sands of Roskildefjord in Denmark. Roskilde 6 is the largest Viking ship known to exist, and was used as the pattern for the construction of Sea Stallion from Glendalough/ Havhingsten fra Glendalough.
Surviving oak timbers are housed within a steel frame that sketches out the true form of the ship, slicing through the gallery, making it at once both solid and whole, and as skeletal as the remains of the warrior in the case alongside, glaring out from beneath an armoured helm. The exhibition is now in its final week. Roskilde 6 will soon return to the Viking Ship Museum in Roskilde, and the surrounding treasures back into the main display at the British Museum and to other institutions in Norway, Denmark and Scotland.
Entry to the Viking exhibition was controlled by allocating time-slots throughout the day, so we had a couple of hours to wait before getting access. Just enough time to get a taste for the rest of the exhibits in the Museum. A thorough visit will easily eat up a day of your time, with all the different and interesting items on show. Be sure to take a break to let everything sink in, and as this is the British Museum, sit and people-watch in the Great Court over an excellent cup of tea.
*I promise that there will soon be some posts on this blog that aren’t all about Vikings. But I’m also sure there will be lots more that are as well.