British Museum blog

Searching the British Museum collection

Badges in the British Museum collection


Matthew Cock, Head of web, British Museum

When the British Museum first opened in 1759, free admission was granted to all ‘studious and curious persons’. In 2007 we took that idea a step further with the launch of our collection online. A gradual process has seen this facility grow since then from about 300,000 objects available to over two million.

Badges in the British Museum collection

Badges in the British Museum collection

We know from looking at visitor statistics that many thousands of people use the collection online, accounting for about a third of our web traffic – around 15.5 million page views a year. As well as building on this amazing resource by releasing a semantic web endpoint and creating online research catalogues that tap into it, we’re working to improve and update the search itself to make it easier to use.

Through surveys and talking to regular users inside and outside the Museum – and of course, using it ourselves – we are very aware that the current search could be improved. So a team of staff from the web, programming and collection documentation teams, together with Museum curators, have been working on improvements to the interface.

This process has coincided with a re-design of the whole website that incorporates several strands – wider pages, larger images and bigger text for example. We’re currently half way through the process of updating the collection search, and have made available a Beta release to give you the opportunity to try it out alongside the old version, and let us know what you think.

You can let us know whether you approve of the changes (or not!) and if there are any bugs in what we have done. We’d like your feedback so we can make adjustments to improve it before we finalise it.

But, it’s important to note that the release at this stage only shows about half of the overall work we’re undertaking. So far we’ve updated the search results page, with larger thumbnails and a revised design; the object record page, with a revised design and – again – larger images, and we’ve added an image gallery for when an object has more than one image.

These pages are currently only available from a straightforward keyword (“free text”) search, and there are no sorting options for the results at the moment. Work is currently ongoing to develop the interface on the “advanced search” facility and to add the sorting options that users can currently apply to their results.

We’d like your feedback as comments to this post, so that you can see what others have commented already – and we can feed back if useful on comments and questions for the whole user community to see.

The beta release of the new Collection online is available here: britishmuseum.org/system_pages/beta_collection_introduction.aspx

The current version that it will replace is available here: britishmuseum.org/collection

If you’d like to email any comments, you can send them to web@britishmuseum.org with COL BETA in your subject line.

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Filed under: At the Museum, Collection, Research

Looking again…

The Expulsion from Paradise, Giulio Benso, 1610-1670


Sarah Longair, education manager, British Museum

We spend much of our time here at the Museum analysing, researching and contextualising objects and finding ways to communicate effectively with our visitors. So when the chance to bring a fresh perspective on our collection comes along, it’s always a great moment: challenging us and our visitors to think again.

Late in July, the result of an exciting collaboration between the British Museum and a group of Year 12 students from Camden School for Girls went on show in Room 90 in the display: ‘Isolation: from text to image’.

The project originated late last year, when Hugo Chapman, Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum, and our Schools and Young Audiences team decided to invite students to curate a display of works from the collection. We particularly wanted to encourage an innovative yet relevant approach to looking at the collection so we approached English literature students and asked them to use texts they are studying as inspiration. The literary sources, which included Hamlet, the Great Gatsby, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, John Osborne’s Look back in Anger and Keats’s poetry, would definitely give varied and intriguing possibilities through which to look at the collection.

The Expulsion from Paradise, Giulio Benso, 1610-1670.

The Expulsion from Paradise, Giulio Benso, 1610-1670.

From those who applied, an enthusiastic, inquisitive and thoughtful group of 12 students was selected to participate as an extra-curricular activity. We were very impressed by their commitment during two very busy school terms. I went to the school to deliver seminar-style sessions at the end of the school day and the group came to the Museum several times. During the Museum sessions, we discussed different approaches to drawing inspiration from images, the varied ways in which their texts related to images, how to measure and evaluate audience behaviour and practiced writing a succinct but engaging display label.

In one of the early discussion sessions, students selected ‘isolation’ as a theme which bound their texts together. From a long-list created by curators, the students selected prints and drawings to look at in the Museum’s print room.

One of the students explained how access to the original print, after seeing reproductions, was a powerful experience:

“Seeing these images gradually unfurled from their protective cloths, amid the hush of the Prints and Drawings room, is not one I will forget in a very long time.”

Left with the freedom to write creatively, they experimented in a variety of styles: in prose and poetry; as a participant in the image; from the perspective of the artist; as a character from their set text. From these various experiments, they created a final label for their selected print.

Together they decided how to arrange the works – an exercise in diplomacy for all concerned – and joined in with hanging them. One of them described their overall experience:

“The result is an exhibition that is incredibly varied. You will find a drawing by the seventeenth century Italian artist Giulio Benso beside modern artists such as Isidoro Ocampo and George Bellows. Linking such images to set texts has proved fascinating – even with prints and drawings that appeared to have concrete interior storylines, it was possible to illustrate our individual responses to our chosen texts, whether through creative or analytical writing.

If our accompanying texts make you look again at the image we have been describing, we’ve done our job. The result is an exhibition that is not only the culmination of an incredible learning process, but also one of which we are all genuinely proud.”

We were extremely impressed by the students’ thoughtful interpretations which really do make you look again at the image. We’d like to thank them for their commitment to this unique project and we hope that visitors will also be excited by this fresh perspective on the collection from these young writers.

Isolation: from text to image is on display in Room 90 until 3 September 2012

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Filed under: At the Museum, Collection

Winning Words spoken at the British Museum

British Museum curator, Richard Parkinson looking at a tomb-painting


Richard Parkinson, curator, British Museum

Curators are often requested for media appearances, but not always in the way they might expect. The Museum was recently approached about participating in Winning Words, a project by the Forward Arts Foundation about creating short films of a cross section of Britons reading inspiring poems, to enhance people’s lives through poetry as part of the Cultural Olympiad 2012. I happen to work on Ancient Egyptian poetry, and particularly on how such works can be performed, doing for example ‘experimental philology’ sessions at an academic conference with the actress and novelist Barbara Ewing. Poetry lies at the heart of my research and because Sian Toogood, the Museum’s Broadcast assistant knew this, she approached me.

The poem I was asked to read was ‘Leisure’ by the Welsh poet W. H. Davies (1911 AD), with the famous opening couplet ‘What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare?’. I must admit that the poem does not appeal to me in terms of style, but every academic would applaud its sentiment about time, as the lack of time for research is always the hardest part of our daily experience.

Sian and I suggested that the filming could be done in Gallery 61, with the famous Ancient Egyptian wall-paintings from the tomb-chapel of Nebamun (1325 BC). The importance of looking and staring at them was central to the concept of the gallery, and we thought that various details of the paintings could relate to the poem’s mentions of trees, cows and female beauty. Both the poem and the paintings express the wonder of experiencing the world around us, despite their different cultures and dates.

The film crew arrived before the galleries open to the public, and were a joy to work with; the whole session took about 20 minutes. ‘Leisure’ was recorded in two takes (I was too fast in the first as I was worrying that I’d sound too bitter and sad when talking about lack of time!), and I also read a few lines from Sean O’Brian’s ‘Dignified’ (a poem that was new to me and which I admire immensely). This became part of a very evocative mash-up film of 12 people across London speaking it in a single day.

This is a very inspirational project, and marvellous to have been part of – and for someone who works with ancient texts it is always useful to be reminded how poems work so differently with the voice than just on the page: performance is the very essence of their life no matter how old they are.

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Filed under: At the Museum, Collection

‘the most tantalising sculpture in the entire world’….


Judith Swaddling, curator, British Museum

The Motya charioteer

That’s what Andrew Graham-Dixon, television presenter, thinks of the Motya Charioteer. To me, not only is it an incredibly beautiful sculpture, but an extremely rare example of a Greek victor’s statue, representing the winner of a chariot race that took place almost 2,500 years ago.

The Motya Charioteer. Photo: Maurizio de Francisci and Salvo Piano, courtesy of the Regione Siciliana, Assessorato dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana.

The Motya Charioteer. Photo: Maurizio de Francisci
and Salvo Piano, courtesy of the Regione Siciliana,
Assessorato dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana.

For the past couple of months the charioteer has been on display in the Parthenon gallery at the British Museum. As part of the ‘Winning at the ancient Games’ trail, this statue with unquestionable attitude is one of 12 objects telling us about different aspects of victory in ancient sport. The sculpture has gained a vast number of fans and has even moved visitors to tears by its beauty.

I can’t help but contemplate what we’ve lost in the way of original Greek sculpture over the centuries. What survives is only a tiny fraction of the thousands of statues that stood in the sanctuaries of the gods and in public spaces. So we’re all the more lucky to have the charioteer here on loan from his usual home in Sicily, as the spectacular highlight of our trail. Did many other statues exist that were as exquisite as this one, I wonder?

Victors in the games of ancient Greece were allowed to set up statues of themselves where they won the contest. Sometimes, because a win in one of the major games, then as now, was such good propaganda, his town or city would set up a similar statue in his honour back home. Nowadays we set up gold-painted post-boxes in their home towns instead!

The Charioteer was found in excavations in Sicily in 1979. It was more than likely a monument honouring the achievement of a local ruler in Sicily. The grassland of Sicily and southern Italy was first-class for horse-breeding, and the Greek rulers of cities there, in what was known as ‘Greater Greece’, won lots of equestrian victories in the major games, especially at Olympia and Delphi, back in Greece itself. Their coins boast the theme – a kind of parallel for our postage stamps with the 2012 winners.

In an ancient chariot race, with reputedly up to 40 chariots in a contest, there’s no doubt that charioteers put their lives at risk. Some say the charioteer looks like a poser, but look more closely at that hand on the left hip. It doesn’t just rest there decorously – it’s really supporting his weight and digging into the flesh, pulling the fine cloth of the long tunic into incredibly realistic folds.

The back of the sculpture

The back of the sculpture, on display at the British Museum

The thrust-out hip is unquestionably provocative, but isn’t that how you’d stand with an exhausted body, yet proud and triumphant enough still to push out the chest and hold the head erect? The virtually transparent cloth clings to his body with the sweat and effort of the race. The veins on his upper arms still stand out with the blood coursing through.

True, there have been a large number of alternative interpretations of the figure, but the main reason for identifying it as a charioteer is the long tunic, the xystis, and the broad belt on to which the reins would have been fastened – on the statue, this would have been via fixings in the two holes in the belt at the front. This prevented the reins from being pulled out of the hands, but also dangerously prevented the charioteer from being thrown free in a crash. Most disasters happened at the turning posts at either end of the oblong track.

But there are so many other intriguing questions about the Charioteer.

Why was the statue found on a tiny island at the western tip of Sicily, – Motya, in ancient times a Phoenician stronghold? We know that it was from here that the Phoenicians, towards the end of the 5th century BC, raided a number of the Greek cities in Sicily, looting many sculptures and taking them back to their homeland – Carthage, in north Africa. If this was one of the looted statues, why was it taken to Motya instead? It was actually found built into fortifications which the Phoenicians must have rapidly constructed when Dionysios I, the Greek ruler of Syracuse, invaded in retaliation and sacked Motya not many years later in 397 BC. In ancient times it wasn’t unusual to utilise statues or any other stonework at hand to hastily build up a barricade in times of siege.

Winning athletes in the ancient games became super-heroes, were given massive home-coming parades, and public honours such as free meals and theatre tickets for life. Some were even thought to have healing powers. They became celebrities, and could command prize money for appearances at festivals. Maybe our winner here would find a lot in common with our 2012 sporting heroes!

The statue is normally displayed at the Museo Giuseppe Whitaker on Motya and is on loan at the British Museum until 19 September courtesy of the Regione Siciliana, Assessorato dei Beni Culturali e dell’Identità Siciliana, with thanks to the Italian Cultural Institute in London.

Winning at the ancient Games is on display in various galleries until 9 September 2012

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A wooden O



Alan Farlie, Exhibition designer,
RFK Architects Ltd

Explaining the job of an exhibition designer is not straightforward as it depends on the type of exhibition and the type of story being told. For a paintings and drawings show we may work with existing gallery walls and the job is about placement and selection of wall colours. Designing Shakespeare: staging the world was far more complicated than that.

We were finishing the installation of Treasures of Heaven in 2011 when I was asked if we would pitch for the Shakespeare exhibition. The British Museum was already working with the Royal Shakespeare Company and one of the reasons for the pitch was to see how we would work with Tom Piper, Associate Designer at the RSC. At RFK we believe there should be an intellectual foundation to all of our design work and the first stage, before putting pencil to paper, is research. In the case of Shakespeare that involved research into the objects and the story, but also a look at Tom’s work for the RSC and thoughts on the differences between exhibition design and theatre design.

People often talk about ‘theatrical’ design, as shorthand for flamboyant, noisy and in many cases over-blown design. Tom’s designs for the RSC are consciously modern and often stripped back, which immediately struck a chord with us. And an interview with the Guardian reinforced the sense that Tom had a similar approach to his work: “Perhaps surprisingly, Piper starts with the text: reading the script, picking out words, themes, politics – any hook that might snag an idea”. For us it’s the objects rather than the text but the principle is the same. Unless you understand the objects and the curatorial story any exhibition will just be a repeat of some standard formula.

In our pitch to the BM we included sketches that illustrated the principle differences between exhibition and theatre design.

Sketches showing one of the fundamental differences between Theatre and Exhibition – the narrative in a play is defined by the passage of time; the narrative in an exhibition is defined by the visitor passing through space.

In the theatre, the audience remains in a fixed location as the spectacle changes everyone starts the play at the same time and finishes at the same time. The experience is a shared one that unfolds over time.

In an exhibition, the spectacle is fixed. It tends to be an individual experience that unfolds as the visitor moves through the space at his or her own pace, encountering new points of view with every step. Our challenge was to blend the visual language of performance-based stage design with that of object-based exhibition design and to come up with something new and unexpected.

The original section titles as briefed and a diagram showing visitor circulation with London at the heart and non-linear circulation.

The exhibition is structured around the idea of nine ‘Imagined Worlds’ each of which represents different aspects of Shakespeare’s plays. Our first sketches showed the first of these ‘London 1612′ at the heart of the exhibition with all the other sections linking to it. As the design developed it became apparent this would not work practically but we felt it was important to retain the sense of London being at the exhibition’s heart, if not its physical centre.

Early sketch illustrating the idea of seeing through to the books.

We were also struck by the resonances of an exhibition about ‘the text’ being staged within the Round Reading Room, which is still a working library and from the outset wanted to express that connection. In the final design this was achieved by cutting a series of slot windows that give views onto the bookstacks.

The first draft of the design model

To develop the design, we used a series of models at various scales. Models are perfect for collaborations of this kind and allow for immediate exchange of ideas. They are not precious and are there to be cut and carved as part of the process. The first draft, shown here, has just four elements (the large ring is the lighting ring originally installed for The First Emperor exhibition): at bottom left is London or the ‘Wooden O’ as it became known; at top right is a second curve that enclosed ‘The New World’ and in the centre of the room, two large walls that carried two of the largest objects (Fialletti’s view of Venice and the Sheldon Tapestry Map, which featured in previous blogs) and also began to define Venice, Arden and Great Britain. This basic structure of circles, arcs and straight walls was overlaid and developed to become the exhibition now on display.

Final version of the model

This photo of the (almost) final design shows how the circle of the ‘Wooden O’ breaks down and is repeated at different scales in combination with the flat painted walls to create the different worlds. In the first section the curved walls are finished in stained plywood fixed vertically to reference the architecture of Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. In the next section the plywood breaks up to form the ‘trees’ of the Forest of Arden with a sandblasted and stained finish. In medieval England and the Classical world of Julius Caesar the plywood is laid on its side and whitewashed to reference monumental stonework. And to represent the world of Macbeth a charred and blackened finish combines with a deep red and a series of slots to create a sense of menace and uncertainty.

The final section focuses on the strange and foreign New World of The Tempest. As the new lands were so full of surprises for the Elizabethan and Jacobean explorers, so this final space in the exhibition speaks of a blank canvas, a liminal space, full of potential and wonder. This is invoked using the vocabulary of contemporary art galleries and cinema. The walls, floor and ceiling are white and the lighting is diffuse so that this space evokes the starkness of the White Cube and the other-worldliness of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001.

This is just a taster of the work that went into the design and there are many other collaborations that are an essential part of putting together an exhibition of this scale. In particular we worked closely with the lighting designer (Zerlina Hughes of Studio ZNA) and digital media consultant (David Bickerstaff at Newangle) as well as the in house graphic designer at the British Museum. So finally – a couple of images of the completed exhibition – I hope you get a chance to see it.

“Can this cockpit hold the vasty fields of France? Or may we cram within this wooden O the very casques that did affright the air at Agincourt?” (Henry V prologue). Above the First Folio the ceiling beams radiate to reach out, beyond the wooden O, to Shakespeare’s imagined worlds. © Nick Rochowski Photography

The final section takes its cue from the white walls of modern gallery spaces to invoke ‘the shock of the new’. Strange objects and creatures from the new world are displayed in a soft diffuse light. © Nick Rochowski Photography

Shakespeare: staging the world is open from 19 July to 25 November 2012.

The exhibition is supported by BP.
Part of the World Shakespeare Festival and London 2012 Festival.

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Filed under: Shakespeare: staging the world, , ,

The Beau Street Hoard: the view from Bath

A gallery display at the Roman Baths Museum, Bath


Stephen Clews, Manager, Roman Baths and Pump Room

The Beau Street hoard was found in the old spa quarter of Bath, where a nineteenth century hospital building is being converted into a five star hotel next to the city’s modern spa and close to the heart of the old Roman town of Aquae Sulis.

The site is very close to two of the city’s three hot springs. Excavations in the nineteenth century in advance of the hospital revealed evidence of a Roman bath house adjacent to one of these springs, so it was expected that some interesting Roman archaeology might be revealed by excavations here. But a large hoard of coins was completely unexpected.

The excavation of the Beau Street Hoard. © Cotswold Archaeology

The excavation of the Beau Street Hoard. © Cotswold Archaeology

There are no other large hoards of Roman coins known from Bath. Nor is there anything about the known archaeology of the site or indeed any other evidence from Bath that would lead us to expect the discovery of what is now the largest hoard of Roman coins yet discovered from an urban context in Britain.

The Roman Baths intends to acquire this hoard through the Treasure process and put it on prominent display in a gallery devoted to the story of Aquae Sulis. Here it will be seen by the around a million visitors who come to see what is already one of Britain’s principal Roman sites every year.

At the moment, we’re working to raise money for the acquisition and would like it to be a process in which we can celebrate the discovery of the hoard and use it as a spring board for a wide range of learning and cultural activities inspired by it. Together with the British Museum and several other organisations we are working up ideas for a programme that will run alongside the conservation, acquisition and display of the hoard.

The Roman Baths Museum. © Bath & North East Somerset Council

The Roman Baths Museum. © Bath & North East Somerset Council

Although there will be opportunities to take part in these events and see many of the coins in advance our target is to put the hoard on permanent display towards the end of 2014.

But, for now, with each coin that emerges, we’re trying to work out why the hoard was buried in the first place. So far the latest coin discovered dates to 274 AD, and although this was a time of great unrest in the Roman Empire there has been no indication of this in the archaeological record from Bath. Troubled times are not always the reason for the deposition of hoards, but they are an obvious reason to consider.

Burial of the coins as an offering to the gods seems unlikely in this case – as just a few yards away more than 12,000 coins have been recovered from excavations of a Sacred Spring where they were thrown in as offerings directly to the Goddess Sulis Minerva. In Bath that was the obvious way to make an offering.

Objects found at a sacred spring in Bath. © Bath & North East Somerset Council

Objects found at a sacred spring in Bath. © Bath & North East Somerset Council

The hoard was buried in a stone-lined box set into the floor of a Roman building. It was presumably covered over, perhaps by wooden boards or a piece of furniture to hide its presence. Whatever the means, it certainly seems to have achieved its object. A personal loss of a family fortune? Perhaps an elderly batchelor living alone with his inheritance hidden safely away? In which case the hoard may have been buried some years later than its youngest coin suggests.

We could imagine many other scenarios to account for the hoard. Whatever the reason, the hoard that now survives has brought a new dimension and a new story to our thinking about the development of Roman Bath that ranks with many of the other great discoveries made here.

The 300-year-dig at Bath that began with the discovery of the gilt bronze cult statue of the goddess Sulis Minerva in 1727 is still giving up secrets!

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

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Filed under: Beau Street Hoard, Conservation

Collecting the Olympics

Commemorative medal of the 1908 London Olympics

Thomas Hockenhull, curator, British Museum

After seven years of anticipation, the Olympics have finally descended upon London. Apart from holding a private desire to see Jason Kenny triumphantly ride away with another cycling gold medal, I am also hoping that the proximity of the games to the British Museum will enable me to establish a unique collection of Olympic related ephemera. These objects can take the form of used tickets, volunteer passes (providing they are not required to be returned to the games organisers), badges, travel cards, vouchers and other related material that will provide a numismatic record of the Olympics as they happened.

Commemorative medal of the 1908 London Olympics.

Commemorative medal of the 1908 London Olympics.

To put this aim into context, the Modern Money collection at the British Museum comprises over 160,000 objects from about 1700 to the present. It includes coins, banknotes, cheques, credit cards, tokens, tickets, artworks and a variety of ephemera relating to the modern history of transaction. We also collect medals and badges. The collection is constantly expanding and, at the very modern end we aim to acquire at least one example of every type of object that contributes to the numismatic and financial record of the world as we know it. However, the breadth of available objects dictates that I sometimes have to prioritise what I acquire.

To help me decide what to collect I often try to imagine two hypothetical scenarios. Firstly, I consider what, in all the landfill and detritus which will contribute toward a numismatic history of the 21st Century, is least likely to survive unless it is properly housed and cared for in a museum? Secondly, I think about what themes a curator of the future, perhaps centuries hence, might wish to explore in an exhibition, and what objects will assist them to tell their story.

Applying these criteria to the London Olympics, it occurs to me that there is a huge body of evidence beyond the medals the athletes will take home, that provide a snapshot of London in 2012. Indeed, in a world that is becoming increasingly digitised, the 2012 Olympics potentially provide a last opportunity for us to collect numismatic objects like paper admission tickets and travel cards to the games. Rather like assembling a time capsule for the future, collecting these objects will ensure that there is a body of material available for future research and display.

If you think you might have an object, or groups of objects, which fit into the above categories and which you would be prepared to donate to the Department of Coins and Medals, please email: thockenhull@britishmuseum.org

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Filed under: At the Museum, Collection

Back to Kabul

St John Simpson, Curator, Middle East

This weekend sees the official hand-over in the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul of a large consignment of antiquities which was recently sent there by the British Museum with the logistic support of the British Armed Forces.

These objects included the 20 ivory and bone furniture inlays excavated at Begram which were stolen from the National Museum of Afghanistan during the civil war (1992–1994). They were generously acquired and donated by a private individual, and conserved at the British Museum with the support of a grant from Bank of America Merrill Lynch through its Art Conservation Project. These decorative inlays were exhibited last year at the conclusion of our exhibition Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World, also supported by Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

One of the returned objects: a double-tube cosmetic flask in the form of a camel with each hump acting as a hollow container. This type of object was frequently placed as a grave-good in Bronze Age cemeteries in northern Afghanistan (ancient Bactria) during the late third to early second millennium BC.

These were not all though. The consignment also included the large carved schist statue of Buddha which was identified in a private collection in Japan, privately bought and donated and again temporarily exhibited at the British Museum last year. Another much smaller private donation was a medieval coin belonging to the twelfth century Ghorid dynasty. The coin had been found on the surface at Bamiyan in 1970 by an English lady who kindly offered it as a donation to the Kabul museum after seeing the exhibition at the British Museum and meeting some of its staff at a Guardian debate hosted here. Last but not least there were as many as 821 additional objects which had been seized by the UK Border Force and the Art and Antiques Unit of the Metropolitan Police, which we had identified as originating in Afghanistan (of which more anon in another post).

Dr Massoudi, Director of the National Museum of Afghanistan, collecting the consignment at Camp Souter, Kabul, 15 July 2012 (Crown Copyright/MOD 2012)

The logistics of this return had to be co-ordinated carefully as these were not the only items to travel to Kabul. As part of our exhibition loan agreement, we had undertaken to produce 400 additional copies of our exhibition catalogue, plus another 600 copies specially translated into Dari and Pashto, and we finally received these from the printers in China in April this year. This represents quite a large and heavy stack of parcels!

The timing was finally triggered by a request from Dr Massoudi, Director of the National Museum of Afghanistan, who wished to display the Buddha as part of a larger exhibition celebrating Buddhist art in Afghanistan. Many different parties became involved as it was agreed that the transport would be undertaken by the Ministry of Defence but we had to avoid the Olympic build-up. The details and final stages were kept confidential until after the pieces had been safely collected by Dr Massoudi and his colleagues from the British Armed Forces headquarters at Camp Souter in Kabul on 15 July. We are extremely grateful to all who helped.

A British Armed Forces News video about the return of the objects to Afghanistan

A high profile announcement of their return was made during a joint press conference in Kabul on 19 July by President Hamid Karzai and Prime Minister David Cameron. This was particularly fitting as President Karzai had opened the Afghanistan exhibition at the British Museum on 3 March last year and the Foreign & Commonwealth Office had facilitated the earlier negotiations. Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, said: “I am delighted that these important artefacts have been safely returned to the National Museum in Kabul. This is the outcome of the ongoing dialogue between our cultural institutions as well as the support of the authorities to identify and preserve items from the national collection of Afghanistan that had been illegally removed during years of conflict”.

Unsurprisingly, our colleagues in Kabul are very pleased and the last word goes to Dr Massoudi: “I am very happy to receive this very fine collection of artefacts … for me all the pieces are very important. All of them tell and show our rich culture and history, but I especially like the Bronze Age collection and the axe we have from this period and the Fire Buddha with flames above his shoulders from the Buddhist period”.

Filed under: Afghanistan: Crossroads of the Ancient World, Exhibitions

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