Curator's Introduction

"If I were take you on a personal tour of the British Museum I would steer you away from the crowds around the Mummies or the Rosetta Stone. I would want to surprise you with highlights of the British Museum I know, a building packed with wonderful things that tell unexpected stories from all over the World – not just from Ancient Greece, Rome or Egypt, but from West Africa, the Pacific, northern Europe. I will take you on a two million year journey from some of the oldest surviving humanly made things in the world to today’s works of art and throw away ephemera – did you know the British Museum collects plastic as well ancient stone tools? – and ask you if we can really be human without things? In choosing the objects for this exhibition, I have chosen objects from across the Commonwealth, objects that I would show you if I took you around the British Museum.

We would see some of the most loved objects in the Museum, such as the Lewis chess pieces, but also stop at cases most people walk past not knowing the stories these objects want to tell. Some of the things I would show you might be ‘treasures’ crafted out of precious metals – a golden collar that is one of the most iconic objects from Britain’s early history. Others might on first appearance look a bit grey and dull, although their real value may far exceed their glitzy neighbours – an unprepossessing wooden drum that tells the complex story of the Slave Trade. Some will be large and imposing sculptures, other small pieces of jewellery. Some of their stories have been known for some time and may have altered how we understand history, others are yielding new stories with new research. Some touch of serious matters on power, politics and religion, others will make you laugh.

The expected and the unexpected objects I would take you to include some of the most important objects in the Museum, the type of objects that rarely have been loaned to other Museums, such as the Ife Head or Snettisham Great Torc. We can visit most parts of the world and leave you with encounters with powerful things that will leave you with fresh insights on the history you might already know, and introduced to parts of our history you may never have met before – how much do you know about West African art or that one of the first places in the world to develop farming was Papua New Guinea?"

Jeremy Hill – British Museum.

Throne of Weapons by Mozambican artist Kester
Throne of Weapons by Mozambican artist, 2001
© The Trustees of the British Museum