British Museum blog

Horse power day on Saturday 30 June


Laura Service, Education manager and
Rosie Jones, Events manager: Adult Programmes

On Saturday 30 June the Museum will be saddling up (yes, really) for Horse power day, an exciting day of free activities for all ages. Come and pat a real pony, dress up as a jockey for the photo booth, play pin the tail on the craft-y donkey and much more. Here’s a full list of everything happening on the day. Whilst here, take the opportunity to see the free exhibition The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot.

As event organisers, we want Horse power day to celebrate the links between the horse and popular culture, and the creative impetus that this amazing animal has given to artists across thousands of years. All of our meetings about the event have had a sense of fun, and we are hoping this will come through on the day!

A source of inspiration for the day was the wonderful painting, The Derby Day (1856-58), by William Powell Frith, on display in the exhibition. This painting captures the crowds at a nineteenth-century race day. It demonstrates the vibrant culture that sprang out of race days (not that many of the crowd in the painting are watching the race) and that’s something we’ve considered with the activities on Horse power day. Visitors will be able to make fascinators, a tribute to the popular focus on fashions on display at Ladies’ days at the races, and listen to popular music from the eighteenth and nineteenth century recreating the atmosphere of the first great Thoroughbred races at courses like Ascot and Epsom – including a song specially recreated for the event, not heard in its original version for 250 years, but which survives as a folk song even now!

An Arabian horse on the East Lawn of the British Museum

A particular challenge we’ve faced is bringing live horses onsite. We plan to host, weather permitting, a horse parade on the forecourt of the Museum. Mark Griffin (from Griffin Historical) will compere the parade, giving visitors an opportunity to learn about the attributes of different horses, and the roles they undertake according to their physical traits.

Colleagues across the Museum have contributed ideas for the day, and many will be taking part. Nigel Tallis, co-curator of the exhibition will be answering your questions about curating the exhibition, and about the horses he has been discovering whilst putting together the show as part of ‘ask the expert’.

Working on this event has shown us the huge respect and compassion that humans have for horses. Everyone involved has been excited about the opportunity to celebrate the horse, and that has really sparked our imaginations.

We hope you’ll be able to join us, and share our excitement, as we gallop around the Museum on the day!

Remember to share your day
Tweet using #horsepower and @britishmuseum
Tag your photos on Instagram and Flickr with #horsepower
‘Blinker Tailor Soldier Spy’ Tweet us your best #horsefilm

 

Horse power day is on Saturday 30 June, 11.00–16.00. It is free, just drop in, some events may be ticketed on the day. Full programme for Horse power day.

The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot is free and open from 24 May to 30 September 2012.

The exhibition is supported by the Board of Trustees of the Saudi Equestrian Fund, the Layan Cultural Foundation and Juddmonte Farms. In association with the Saudi
Commission for Tourism & Antiquities.

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Filed under: The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot, , , ,

The new Citi Money Gallery is open


Catherine Eagleton, curator, British Museum

The new Citi Money Gallery is now open. Seeing those words in front of my eyes on the computer screen still feels a little strange! Time has flown by, and I can hardly believe that I am writing this last blog post about the redisplay project.

The objects are installed, the graphics and video are up and running, online content is live, and it’s all looking stunning. There’s an amazing moment as a curator when you see the display you’ve been working on for over a year take shape. Even more wonderful is seeing the first visitors in the gallery looking at the objects, reading the labels, and taking photos of what they see. The first reactions have been incredibly positive – and in fact one case is so popular that it’s getting covered with fingerprints already, as people look at it, and point things out to the people they’re visiting with. While this may not be such great news for the people who will now have to clean the glass daily, for me it’s a real source of pride, and a sign that people are really looking closely at the objects on display.

Senior Museum Assistant, Amanda Gregory installing objects in the new Money Gallery

Senior Museum Assistant, Amanda Gregory installing objects in the new Money Gallery

Now, then, all there is left to do is think about what I should wear to the opening event. Well, not quite. The exciting thing about the Citi Money Gallery project is that we will continue to work on the displays in the gallery after opening.

Various sections of the gallery are designed to be flexible, and allow the new stories of money to be displayed in the coming years, and I’ll be handing over to a new gallery curator soon. Working alongside him will be an education specialist who will be developing programmes and using the themes of the gallery to teach topics including financial literacy and numeracy. So, in the coming months you will occasionally hear from my new colleagues about what they are doing.

If you visit the gallery and have ideas for new technologies of money that you think we should look into adding to the gallery in the next few years, do let us know.

The Money Gallery project is supported by Citi and opens in June 2012.

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Filed under: Collection, Money Gallery, ,

Tracing racing history


Steve Slack, writer, British Museum

If you’re a fan of horses and horse-racing you may well have been following the action at Royal Ascot last week. The highlight of this year’s meet was the Diamond Jubilee Stakes – named after HM The Queen’s milestone which was marked earlier this month.

Her Majesty is also the royal patron of the British Museum’s current temporary exhibition The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot. As part of the 5,000 year story of the domesticated horse, the exhibition explains the origins of what we now know as the modern Thoroughbred racehorse and the role of the Arabian horse.

It’s a little known fact that all modern Thoroughbreds can trace their lineage back to just three prodigious stallions which were imported into Britain from the Middle East around 300 years ago: the Byerley Turk (1680s), the Darley Arabian (1704), and the Godolphin Arabian (1729).

The winning horse in Saturday’s race was Black Caviar, who can trace her ancestry back to the Darley Arabian. And if you’re interested in tracing the history of other Thoroughbreds, there’s a panel in the exhibition with some of the most famous race horses descended from the Darley Arabian.

Grand Stand Ascot (Gold Cup Day 1839). This shows the first grandstand built at Ascot, with a capacity of 3000, which opened in 1839. The etching also shows Queen Victoria in attendance. The horse Caravan, a descendent of the Darley Arabian via Eclipse, won the Gold Cup that year.

 

The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot is free and open from 24 May to 30 September 2012.

The exhibition is supported by the Board of Trustees of the Saudi Equestrian Fund, the Layan Cultural Foundation and Juddmonte Farms. In association with the Saudi
Commission for Tourism & Antiquities.

Filed under: The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot

The Beau Street Hoard: excavation progress

Julia Tubman, conservator, British Museum

As mentioned in previous blog posts, the Beau Street Hoard is not just one huge jumbled mass of coins, but actually at least six separate bags. My excavation plan is to remove these coins bag by bag, to preserve the groupings (which are potentially very significant), and give us a clearer view of the size and shape of each bag.

I had been concerned that the coins might have concreted together to such an extent that identifying separate bags would be very difficult during the excavation, but (fingers crossed!) thus far the removal of individual bags has progressed remarkably smoothly. I have managed to retrieve two whole bags of coins. I have numbered these bags five and six, and they are the two smallest bags at the northern end of the block in the x-ray (five being the smallest).

The block, after the removal of bags 5 and 6

We were excited to see that bag six almost exclusively contained denarii (the smaller coins with a high silver content discussed in Eleanor’s blog post last week), suggesting that the coins might have been bagged by denomination. Of the approximately 3,000 coins I excavated of this bag, I have cleaned around 1,000, and thus far the latest coins we have date to the third century AD.

There are actually a very small number of coins older than the third century contained within the bag: one coin was minted during Otho’s very short reign (AD 69), and an even older one, worn almost flat, minted at the end of the Roman Republic by Mark Antony (just prior to the battle of Actium in 31 BC).

This means that some of the coins were centuries old at the time of the final deposition of the hoard. As I’m cleaning the coins bag by bag in the order excavated, I haven’t yet got round to cleaning the coins kept in bag five, but thus far these all appear to be radiates.

A very worn coin minted by Mark Antony, circa 31 BC

As you can see in the photographs, it is quite easy to tell where one bag ends and another begins. The orientation of the coins themselves and the very bright blue corrosion helps a lot, but there are also other markers. The bags that held the coins would have been organic in nature (made from either an animal or plant product).My guess would be leather as they would have to be strong enough to hold large numbers of coins. Unfortunately, even organic material which has been treated and processed to form objects doesn’t always survive easily in Britain, which is why most of our surviving artefacts are made from stone, ceramic or metal. With this in mind, I knew that any piece of bag that might have survived would be in very poor condition, and I was prepared to look for scant pieces of evidence preserved in the corrosion generated by the coins.

Denarius bearing the emperor Septimius Severus, AD 193-211

Happily though, I think that I have found fragments of leather (see the light brown material loosely attached to the coins), exactly where I know the bags would have been. The leather is obviously very degraded, and as the fibre network has broken up, the leather has shrunken and split resulting in the flaky incoherent material we see today. I have taken some samples of this material, and hopefully my identification of this will be confirmed by a specialist soon.

The next stage of the excavation- the removal of bag 2

After three weeks I now have a much better understanding of the size and shape of the hoard. There were no more coins beneath bags five and six, but the x-rays taken through the side suggest this is not the case throughout the rest of the block – we suspect there might be more bags of coins beneath the six already identified.

The area excavated thus far shows that the floor of the cist is obviously not even, but seems to have been dug in a rough pit-like way. As yet I have found no evidence of any kind of wooden box that might have held all of the bags, and as I have found pieces of tile pressed up against the coins, I actually doubt that there ever was.

Given the way in which the bags have been piled (I do not want to destabilise the central bags by removing their supports), and to get an idea of what the bags of coins in the middle of the block look like, I will now begin excavating ‘bag two’ at the southern end of the block. I’m sure there will be more exciting developments to report.

Find out more about the Beau Street hoard and the Roman Baths Museum fund-raising campaign.

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Filed under: Archaeology, Beau Street Hoard, Conservation, , , ,

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