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“Ancient lives, new discoveries” at the British Museum

August 18, 2014

One of the new temporary exhibitions at the British Museum is Ancient lives, new discoveries and it’s something a little different.

If you’ve been to a temporary exhibition at the British Museum in the past few years you will have gone to the Great Court and would have entered the exhibition either via the stairs at the side of the Reading Room or downstairs to the right of it. Not this time. This exhibition is located near the book store, which is now the exhibition shop.
What is also different is the fact that tickets are limited. They will only let a limited number of people in at any given time to ensure everyone gets an equal chance to have a good look (and read!) while inside. This means that even members of the museum have to book in advance.
All in all, the smaller numbers of people inside and the somewhat out of the way location make this a very nice and quiet experience.

Those of you who are familiar with my blog know that the British Museum is still my favourite museum. And you know I study Egyptology. However, that ‘mummy thing’ has been done a million times before, hasn’t it?
Yes, but not like this.

This exhibition tries to shed light on life in ancient Egypt by looking more closely at eight mummies, all from a different period in its very long existence. In this case ‘looking more closely’ means CT scanning. That’s been done before as well, but I get the idea not many museums make those scans available to the public by adding it to their display or exhibitions. Previously I visited the British Museum to see the CT scans they made of Gebelein man and found it fascinating.
Should you not know, Manchester Museum also uses some of its CT scans in their display (upstairs). I’m hoping they will use more of these scans in the future.

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In the case of ‘Ancient lives, new discoveries’ there are limited scans available of each mummy. For each mummy a different aspect has been highlighted and additionally some items related to the same aspect are displayed nearby.
For example, the first mummy you see had bad teeth. So the focus is on health and medicine.

The mummies themselves are obviously also on display. They are behind glass and it’s possible to almost completely walk around them.
The scans which have been made available can be manipulated. Again, this has been limited, depending on the focus of that particulaar display. Sometimes you can only turn the scan left, right, up or down. In other cases you can look beneath the wrappings and find the amulets etc.

As always there is a book which accompanies this exhibition and, as always, it’s very hight quality.

I think this is the best temporary exhibition I have seen so far. I am a very lazy museum visitor – I don’t like to spend the majority of my time reading. So large amounts of text near the object I am looking at do not make me happy at all. That is positive point number three (numbers one and two are the quiet location and low numbers of visitors) for this exhibition. There is text, but not to the extent that you spend 15 minutes or more reading before moving on to the next mummy.
All the information you could want is in the book. So I can simply sit in the comfort of my own home at a time of my choice and read the details.

Positive point number four is the fact that, like other museums, the British Museum also seems to focus more on life in ancient Egypt, rather than death. Obviously, all we have left are items and dead people and animals, but they can tell us so much about how these people used to live! And isn’t that what we are most interested in?
I am happy to see we’re stepping away from the supposed fascination the Egyptians had with death. After all, they most certainly knew how to live. As there is slowly but surely more balance in the way museums tell the ancient Egyptians’ stories, there is also a beautiful balance in the story of this exhibition. Well worth a visit.


From → Museum visits

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