Posted by: lifeonislandtime | July 30, 2017

To the Victor…

Go the Spoils, and for the British Empire, that's a TON of spoils. So, what do you do with the priceless cultural treasures you have stolen/borrowed/rescued over the years? You put them on display in the largest repository of world treasures since the Library at Alexandria was destroyed. Then, you open it to the public, don't charge admission, and watch the fun.

First off, the museum is very recognizable (much like the New York Public Library) so it is a popular spot to film movies and TV shows. When this happens (as it did today) the entrance is closed and everyone is diverted to the rear. This means the queues to get in are twice as long. Today it went around 3 sides of the building. Once we finally got in, the crowds were crushing, especially around the "hallmark" exhibits. The British Museum is the largest repository of ancient Egyptian artifacts outside Egypt. They are overrun. Not just kids like mummies and large sarcophagi.

Looking for a respite from the crushing crowds, we ventured to the very small "Americas" wing. Wrong choice, for several reasons. First, I forgot I was in Britain, and there is not a Burke Museum to thoughtfully and respectfully house Native American artifacts for public understanding. This gives the artifacts (the small and not very representative sample) a type of mystique that draws crowds to all objects of curiosity. Second, it was a very small gallery filled to bursting with tour groups from around the world and was hot to the point of stifling.

We ended up finding peace in the last place I would have dreamed of looking: the medieval Europe galleries. I guess when it's your own history it's not as interesting. The galleries were blessedly cool, thin on tourists, and highlighting some beautiful treasures of the pre-medieval through Art Deco eras.

What kept going through my mind however, was why the treasures of Greece, Iran, Egypt, and the Far East are in the British Museum instead of in their originating countries? I understand during the height of conquest, displaying the spoils of said conquest was de rigeur. After the fall of empire after the Great War, and certainly after the Second World War, when everyone was all happy to seize and return stolen artifacts amassed by the Nazis, someone would have spoken up to have the artifacts returned.

I guess empire building is easier to stop than displaying the remnants of said empire, even in the politely subdued British manner.


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