Strange Artefacts of the British Museum

Strange Artefacts of the British Museum

  • Posted: Jul 15, 2015
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The British Museum is one of the most visited destinations in Britain and houses treasures from all over the World. Some are well known while others are hidden away but still have a fascinating story to tell. Here’s the first five objects that we think are amongst the strangest in the British Museum.

The Mask of Quetzalcoatl

C.1550 AD – Mexico City – Mexico

mask-of-quetzalcoatl

The Mask of Quetzalcoatl
Height: 173 mm / Width: 167 mm

The conquest of the Aztec empire by Captain Hernán Cortés between 1519 and 1521 was a bloody affair and embroiled with betrayal, murder and greed. Bernardino de Sahagún, a 16th century Spanish friar tells how the Mask was given to Cortés by the Aztec emperor Montezuma II as a gift – possibly because the Aztecs thought Cortez might be an incarnation of Quetzalcoatl himself. Cortez already had a reputation for brutality having recently overseen the slaughter of 2000 noblemen and women at Cholula. If this is the actual mask handed to Cortez by Montezuma II then it has been witness to some of the most brutal and blood soaked times in the history of the Americas. It is certainly true that when looking at it in person more than a few people have experienced a deep sense of dread and foreboding. Carved from a single piece of Cedrela odorata wood, the mask is decorated with turquoise mosaics with teeth made of white conch shell. The overall shape of the mask is similar to both the face of the Spider Monkey or a human skull. The design incorporates two serpents, one in pale green turquoise and one in blue, which encircle the eyes and are entwined over the nose and around the mouth


The Throne of Weapons

2001, Maputo, Mozambique

throne-of-guns

The Throne of Weapons
Length: 1010 mm / Width: 610 mm

The sculpture was developed Cristóvão Estavão Canhavato, a sculptor born in in southern Mozambique but produced under the Artist’s work name – Kester. This artwork was part of the project to transform the many thousands of post-civil war weapons in Mozambique into alternative objects such tools and artworks. There are a number of small but curious inclusions carved into the wooden elements of the sculpture. These include a human face – discovered by Kester – and a gothic church symbol which he is said to have carved himself. Close examination of the artwork also reveals some termite damage. The iconic AK47 rifle from Russia is an important element of the design but it also includes H&K G3 rifles for the upright back Weapons made in many countries and symbolising the scale of the international involvement. All the decommissioned weapons were provided by the “Transforming Arms into Tools” society. The throne was bought by the British Museum in 2002 from a Christian Aid exhibition called “Swords into Ploughshares”.


The Colossal Foot

C. 150 AD, Naples – Italy

colossal-foot

The Colossal Foot
Height: 173 mm / Width: 167 mm

Although there is not a great deal of information about this colossal foot it often captures the attention of visitors because of its remarkable size. It was given to the British Museum as part of a bequest by Sir William Hamilton (1730–1803 the British Ambassador to Naples where this artifact was discovered. Hamilton made a detailed study Mt. Vesuvius and Mt. Etna – later becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society and recipient of the Copley Medal. Judging by the size of the foot the complete statue would have been roughly 16 – 18ft tall (5 metres). In the original inventory it was described as the foot of Apollo although this is no longer certain. It is possible to date statues based on the fashion of the footwear which has suggested to scholars that the foot was part of a statue of a senior Olympian god and given the potential height the figure was probably seated. According to the British Museum it is one of two antiquities from Hamilton’s collection which was drawn for him by Francesco Progenie, a pupil of Pietro Fabris. The discolouration is a combination of natural aging and being touched by countless visitors.


The British Museum Crystal Skull

C. 1870 AD, Mexico / Europe / Uncertain

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The Crystal Skull of the British Museum
Height: 15.0 cm

Many of the best minds from the scientific and archaeological community believe that the mysterious crystal skulls on display in museums around the globe were manufactured between the 18th and 19th centuries but not everyone agrees. The rock crystal skull of the British Museum was originally purchased from the jewellers Tiffany and Co of New York who, in turn, had purchased it from the French antiquities dealer, Eugène Boban, who was also the official archaeologist to the court of Maximillian I of Mexico. As such, the skull was thought to have originated in Mexico as the work of an ancient people from that region such as the Maya. However, Scientists from the British Museum reviewed the skull and analysed the traces of tool marks which indicated that rotary cutting wheels had been used – a technology unknown to the peoples of Pre-Columbian America. In addition, the rock crystal used probably came from Brazil or Madagascar. It is also fair to point out that there is a an extensive group of people who believe that the skull is older than 800 years and the fact that it was made by tools unknown at the time only goes to prove how mysterious these object really are.


The Flood Tablet

C. 650 BC, Nineveh – Northern Iraq

the-flood-tablet

The Flood Tablet
Length: 15.2 cm / Width: 13.3 cm / Depth: 3.2 cm

One of the most fascinating but little know artifacts of the British Museum is the “Flood Tablet”, the earliest known record of a great flood. The cuneiform tablet itself dates back to the 7th Century BC and is part of the epic of Gilgamesh that was found in the Nineveh palace of the Assyrian King Ashurbanipal. Historians believe that poets and oral historians had been telling the same story for at least 2000 years before it was recorded in clay. The 11th tablet tells how Gilgamesh revealed to Utnapishtim (Noah) that the gods were sending a great flood and that he should build a boat and fill it with all his valuable possessions, family, livestock and skilled craftsmen. Utnapishtim did as he was told and survived the flood that lasted for six days. He even used the method of releasing birds to see if there was dry land nearby. This Assyrian account of the Old Testament flood story was discovered in 1872 by George Smith of The British Museum. He is said to torn off his clothes and cavorted around the room so great was his excitement. This is one of the most important pieces of ancient literature in existence.