Brit­ish Museum Sketches

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Here’s some more old sketch­book pages I scanned, this time from the Brit­ish Museum. (Unlike the V&A they let you use pens and have plenty of stools to give out). The first one is metal grave goods from the Bronze Age, mostly from Cent­ral Europe and Wales. I stud­ied Ancient History as my BA, and Bronze Age ritu­al land­scapes and grave goods are some­thing I’m partic­u­larly inter­ested in. Some­thing I’m well aware a lot of people will find horrendously boring. For the best grave goods though, see the Scythi­ans, the nomad­ic horsepeople of the south­ern Russi­an steppes, Ukraine and Kaza­kh­stan. Magni­fi­cent golden jewellery, carpets, embroid­ery and intric­ate tattoos.

These are some carvings of chick­ens from a mural from Lycia in the south­w­est of what is now Turkey. Not a famous item at all, so a nice uncrowded room to sit in. The Brit­ish Museum has so many rooms that it’s almost impossible to visit them all in one day. I have visited them all over the years, and as most tour­ists cluster in the Egyp­tian and Atheni­an rooms, you often have the other galler­ies all to your­self. To be honest, the Brit­ish Museum has so many treas­ures, they could easily send back the disputed items like the Parthen­on sculp­tures and have lots of beau­ti­ful items to fill the galler­ies with (wheth­er the items which no-one is currently clam­our­ing for were them­selves legit­im­ately acquired is anoth­er matter, up until the 1950s or so, a lot of, or perhaps the major­ity of anthro­po­lo­gists and archae­olo­gists were essen­tially robbers and con people- here’s look­ing at you Schliemann and your dynam­it­ing of the ruins of Troy to get to the gold).

These sculp­tures are from 520-450BC as I have help­fully writ­ten on the draw­ing. This was the peri­od when Athens was at its peak. People often have this idea that the Ancient Greeks, Egyp­tians and Romans were concur­rent, but this is not the case. The Roman empire didn’t even get going (or even have emper­ors) until the first century AD, and the Egyp­tian civil­isa­tion lasted for sever­al thou­sand years. Even with peri­ods like the Trojan War and Persian War, people kind of conflate the two togeth­er and assume they happened close to each other. In real­ity though, the Iliad was writ­ten around 800BC (wheth­er Homer was a single person or a kind of collect­ive oral narrat­ive tradi­tion is some­thing that is up for debate) hark­ing back to glor­i­ous legends of the deeds of the Mycenae­an ancest­ors around 1200BC, and the Persian war was 499-449 (please remem­ber BC dates go back­wards). The Greco-Persian wars were also recor­ded by actu­al contem­por­ary writers too (whatever your opin­ion of Hero­dotus), and the Iliad is essen­tially an oral tradi­tion writ­ten down four hundred years or so later. Troy was a real place on the coast of Turkey, and there is archae­olo­gic­al evid­ence that there was conflict there at about the right time, but who knows about Achilles, Menelaus and so on.

The era of these carvings was also the peri­od of the Persian war (please do not see the film 300 for any kind of inform­a­tion what­so­ever- don’t even talk to me about that film), and Lycia was on the Persian side. The Lycians/​Luwians who lived in the area (and had their own language– which is likely to be the same one the Trojans spoke- Troy is not very far away) are one of the less famous civil­isa­tions of the era, mainly because they were surroun­ded by large bossy neigh­bours like the Atheni­ans, Assyr­i­ans and Hittites.

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