part two, by Visitor Service Staff Sophia Sample

Sophia continues her account from last week’s blog about her week at The British Museum as part of their VS Knowledge Circle programme….

Without a doubt the highlights of the week were the three back-of-house tours with Collections Care Managers Richard Wakeman, Wendy Adamson and Alex Truscott. My first tour was with Richard, based in the Britain, Prehistory and Europe department. Richard was excited to show me a Scandinavian Sami ‘magic drum’, the armoury room, a room storing the Sutton Hoo hoard, and a corridor which formally held all the ‘unspeakable’ items…the mind boggles! In a particularly surreal moment we waited outside a conservation studio to be rejoined by Richard’s colleague, who pulled back a piece of cotton covering her basket to reveal we would be transporting some of the Lewis Chessmen pieces through the stores, but not to draw attention to that fact as we would be stopped and hassled for a look by every single member of staff.

Middle East Collections Care Manager, Wendy Adamson, took me first to the Middle East study room, based in the impressive Arched Room. What a sight! Table upon table of students studying cuneiform tablets. We then moved on to the stores, where I was shown everything from human remains and mummified hands to incantation bowls, exquisite jewels and jewelry, painted wall fragments, carvings, and pieces of pottery. I was interested to learn the department actively collects contemporary Middle Eastern art. Having expressed an interest in wall reliefs I was given access to a closed-to-the-public gallery. The former ‘Assyrian Life’ gallery was home to a number of Ashurbanipal’s Nimrud palace reliefs. Due to their demand elsewhere, both within and outside the museum, multiple wall panels have been removed, giving the room an eerie abandoned feel, as various panels remained in situ, and voices from visitors in adjacent rooms drifted into the gloomy, quiet space.

Finally, I was taken on a tour of the Greece and Roman stores by Alex Truscott. Alex had been kind enough to get out a few of the oldest Roman wall paintings from the stores for me to have a look at. We talked about the paint, their removal from their original setting, and the way they had been mounted and set in plaster. We were lucky enough to bump into one of the curators who was working on cataloguing artefacts from Ephesus, an ancient Greek city in modern day Selçuk, Turkey. Having recently returned, and having been able to see the site of one of the seven wonders of the world, the Temple of Artemis (where very little remains) from my holiday house, I was just a little excited to be shown into his store, where table upon table of carvings and sculptures from the two sites were laid out. Not being averse to confronting and acknowledging their own controversies, we commented that sometimes you travel half the world to see an ancient monument yet ultimately end up seeing more of it in the basements of the British Museum. On a personal level, I felt I had been put in an incredibly privileged position to ‘complete’ my trip in this way.

Thank you Sophie for sharing your account of a fabulous week, and for including wonderful photographs!