On Monday, after class, I went to the British Museum for a few hours. While I was surrounded by the pieces of history that I never believed I would get the chance to see, I began wondering something. Are these pieces for us to view? Were we, as humans, supposed to see these items two, three, four, five, ten thousand years later? Who are they for?
Due to the long period of imperialism that Britain went throughout history, hundreds of thousands of artifacts from civilizations across the globe have made their way to Britain. A very good portion of them have ended up in the British Museum.
Monday, I spent most of my time in the Ancient Egypt exhibit. I wandered around the pieces left of The Book of the Dead, and many mummies, artifacts, and other pieces of that civilization’s history. I almost became overwhelmed at the amount of history that surrounded me. As someone who wants to work in museums and be hands on with history as a career, I wasn’t sure exactly what to feel. It had been a long time since I had been at a major museum like the British Museum, so I was really shocked by the pieces of history that surrounded me. Not to mention, the history museums that we have in America don’t have artifacts dating back nearly as far as some of the things I saw yesterday.
When I was in the Ancient Egypt exhibit, I began to wonder, would the people who prepared these artifacts or mummified these people, or even the people within the binds of the mummies on display, would they want their work (or their bodies) to be placed behind glass for viewing? While most of the pieces that I saw on Monday were obtained illegally during imperialistic journeys (or just straight up stolen from civilizations), not all of them were. Some were excavated from actual archeological digs.
But that still doesn’t answer the question: does the significance of these items cancel out the fact that they were once an important part of someone’s life?
As someone who hopes to work with these items, I feel torn. I do believe that the current significance of the artifacts are so great that they should be preserved, cared for, and displayed in such a way that will honor them. (Especially artifacts such as mummies and skeletons, that were once human beings like you and me.)
Since I feel as if I have a slight bias on the subject, I am genuinely curious as to what other people think. Please feel free to start a conversation about this, whether it’s in the comments of this post, by sharing this post with your friends and family on Facebook or Twitter, with me (see the contact me tab), or just with people at home.