At the Ashmolean waiting for the drizzle to stop

I wouldn’t want to be a museum designer. As far as I can tell there are at least 65 galleries here, choc full of history.  How do you grab the punter’s attention? I am a bad, bad example; I walk as briskly as humanly possible, avoiding tourists (like myself), and hardly ever read the labels.

Somehow, this is not a museum like any other, and I will never play Civilization 5 again without thoughts of the Ashmolean.

This is a museum of archeology. Mesopotamia, Babylon, Assyria, the East, The Middle East, the Far East, Jerusalem, I’ve never paid more attention than here. The first gallery I went to was, of course, the mummies. I’ve come to believe that I am more fascinated in history from the Middle Ages back than in any other time period.

When you play Civilisation 5 you are a ruler of an empire: Babylonian, Celt, French, Assyrian, etc, struggling to take your people to the top of the heap. Until this visit to the UK, I never pictured in my head exactly how we as a society got to our evolutionary point.

Nor did I realize to what lengths archeologists and collectors went to gather, and later donate, their finds. I guess I never really thought about it.

It’s a Tuesday, and there aren’t that many tourists. Unlike visiting the V& A on a week end, here there is plenty of space to get close to the exhibits.

mummy of a child

After the mummies I listen in on a tour about the small effigies that are included in tombs. Small exquisite statues, dioramas to help you in the afterlife. There are cartouches and wall pieces depicting the gods, pots the size of a man.

I move on to the first Europeans and bronze age armour. The detail on some the work is exquisite. How were these items found? We are now witness to skills developed in the long lost past, without machines, computers or any other time saving device. These statues, brooches, armour and pots were all intricately made by sheer muscle power.


I wonder around some more. If I had more days, I’d take a few galleries at a time. And suddenly I am in the violin room. Oh the craftsmanship! A few Stradivari here and there.  Early forms of the guitar, citterns, lutes, guitars. A rare Stradivari guitar. I take lots of photos for Tony’s benefit.

The conservator in me wakes up: I don’t know what they do about temperature control; some of the upper floor exhibits went from cold to hot. The thermostat controls look like walky talkies.

I love the Pre Raphaelites. I’d forgotten that some of them are my favourite artists. In fact as I wander around the painting galleries there are many artists here who did not feature at all in my arts degree.

There is so much more to see out there than we can possibly know. I am simply amazed at the wonder of the every day.


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