As I was preparing to take classes in London in the Spring of 1992, my mom encouraged me to visit one section of the British Museum each week so I wouldn’t get overwhelmed. It was one of her many wise comments.
My weekly walk took less than 20 minutes to go from my apartment near Oxford Circus where I was renting a room, to the large stately building full of wonders of the world. I bought a museum guidebook and began taking notes.
In the 1920s Leonard Woolley began digging in the “Royal Cemetery” in the ancient Sumerian city of Ur in today’s Iraq. The “Standard of Ur,” a hollow box covered with mosaics of lapis lazuli, shell and red limestone showing scenes of war and peace, is over 4,500 years old. On the front of a wooden 11-string lyre found in Queen Puabi’s grave is a small head of a bull covered in gold. (See a musician carrying the lyre in the upper right box.)
The ancient Egyptian rooms were full of treasures, including a large (almost 8’ tall) two-colored granite fragment of a statue of Pharaoh Ramesses II, the great builder, found in a temple in Thebes. Mummies, mummy masks, and colorful mummy cases filled another room. The Rosetta Stone, a large slab of black basalt carved with three scripts, unlocked the meaning of hieroglyphics.
The Assyrian rooms included Shalmaneser II’s tall Black Obelisk carved to commemorate various foreign rulers bringing tribute to him, such as Jehu, the King of Israel. A large (11’ tall) winged human-headed lion (with five legs) once protected Ashurbanipal II’s palace at Nimrud (today’s Iraq). The walls or stone panels from his palace at Nineveh show carvings of the king hunting lions and laying siege of cities.
One panel depicts the king and queen enjoying a meal in a garden accompanied by musicians while an enemy’s head hangs in a nearby tree. Ashurbanipal II also sent people around his kingdom to collect more than 30,000 cuneiform tablets for his library, including the hand-sized Flood Tablet from the 7th c BC.
Week after week the Old Testament came alive for me through seeing objects both large and small. The intricate and beautiful artwork grew my appreciation of ancient cultures.
I became a historian in the British Museum.
After I returned home I began reading and taking classes on archeology and history. Several years later I found that my new mother-in-law received Archeology, a monthly magazine, which she passed on to me after she was done.