On a Monday morning, not 17 minutes past opening time, the line to get into the British Museum stretched an entire block. With a record 1.7 billion people taking vacations of late it’s probably no surprise that nobody works during the holidays anymore but it’s still disappointing to be in the middle of a sea of people wanting to see a Hellenistic-era Google translator, a/k/a the Rosetta Stone. Relative peace and quiet in a world class museum with free entry is an especially tall order in this current reality but luckily the security line was quick, and once we were in the museum – only my second time since the first in 2002 – it felt like a walk back in time, for me both literally and figuratively.
The Sumerian human-headed, winged creatures called lamassus were staggering in scope, the Egyptian mummies were too many to believe, and the preserved corpse of a 5500-year old human was disturbing to look at, more so when people were taking photos of it. Like what Teko said, any of the thousands of well-kept artifacts on display could easily serve as a big deal in any other museum, but for the British Museum it was just an ordinary day across the many millennia it presented. Much of the treasures there were likely plundered and if there was any justice should be returned to where they came from – yes I’m looking at you, Elgin marbles. But to have a chance to see all these examples of human history and achievement in one place is tempting and easy to fall prey to selective blindness.
As for the stars of the show, Teko gave up even before I went looking for them and I couldn’t blame him. As I discovered, the Rosetta Stone of course was mobbed from all sides, and the popular Parthenon marbles grandly out of place. It was in any case a nice visit, even a great visit for many reasons. Not only for being free and all of it set impressively, but the deja vu feeling after being back 17 years later was appealing, and the notion that nothing seems to have changed is powerful for its continuity and sense of stability, two things that anything would need to stand the test of time. Assuming things stay the same, I’ll be sure to check on them again in another decade and a half.