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Clarissa Farr.

Delving into the ancient past

Winter is here and with it the impulse to gather around the fire to hear stories of the past. In this issue, we show how new research is throwing light on early human societies and how our view of what we are and have been is constantly evolving.

Great excitement attends our forthcoming exhibition, The world of Stonehenge. Neil Wilkin invites us to reflect that when the bluestones were hauled from west Wales 5000 years ago, they were to usher in a period of 1500 years during which Stonehenge was built, altered and revered. The exhibition will reveal the stories, objects and people that gather around a monument which today is part of our national psyche and was once at the heart of the ancient world.

Clive Gamble, whose captivating lectures have delighted members during the pandemic, reveals how in 1859 a revolution in our understanding of time took place. Two ‘weekend scientists’, Joseph Prestwich and John Evans, found a handaxe in northern France which was used by humans when the woolly mammoth walked the earth. Without the modern methods of dating we have today, even they did not know that the axe was in fact 450,000 years old. And if the Becket exhibition left you stirred by violent acts, we learn here how the occupants of the Palaeolithic Jebel Sahaba cemetery in north-east Africa were not maimed by a single war, but suffered repeated attacks as the result of skirmishes and conflicts over natural resources.

Focusing on ancient Greek civilisation, Thomas Kiely unveils depictions of the Parthenon like ‘a set of imaginary holiday postcards’ recording the transformation of the Acropolis from ancient cult centre to the modern archaeological site we see today. Edward J. Watts, meanwhile, airs the controversial idea that the Roman Empire ended in 797 as Irene, the first woman to rule in her own name, took power.

I hope you will be roused from the fireside soon to join us at the Museum, enjoying the rich and storied permanent collection as well as immersing yourself in the enthralling exhibition programme.

Clarissa Farr Chair, British Museum Friends Advisory Council

With thanks to our contributors

Julie Anderson Curator: Sudan and Nubia Daniel Antoine Acting Keeper: Egypt and Sudan Stephen Coppel Curator: Modern Prints and Drawings

Isabelle Crevecoeur Biological anthropologist, CNRS, University of Bordeaux Clive Gamble Former Chair of British Museum Friends Advisory Council Muriel Gray British Museum Trustee, author and broadcaster Thomas Kiely A.G. Leventis Curator for Ancient Cyprus

Katherine Pangonis Historian specialising in the medieval Mediterranean and the Middle East Imma Ramos Tabor Foundation Curator: South Asia Collections Helen Ritchie Curator of Applied Arts, Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge Andrew Robinson Member of the British Museum Friends Advisory Council

Vesta Sarkhosh Curtis Curator: Middle Eastern Coins Edward J. Watts Alkiviadis Vassiliadis Chair and Professor of History at the University of California, San Diego Neil Wilkin Curator: Early Europe Akiko Yano Project Curator: Mitsubishi Corporation Japanese Galleries

British Museum Magazine Winter 2021


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