Thursday was quite hot (35°C) but I thought a trip to the British Museum would keep me cool (how wrong could I be). I used to work in London, within ten minutes of the British Museum, but I’m ashamed to say this was my first visit. I arrived bright and early, ten minutes after opening time, and there was a queue! Once in, the place was a sauna! There is a beautiful central atrium with a glass roof which perhaps explains how a building with so much stone and marble could be so hot.
The search was on for all things ammonite – I found some in the Enlightenment Gallery which is set out much as the early museum curators would have viewed it. The ammonites are actually nautilus shells which are still found today and are what we think ammonites would have looked like. These specimens were about as big as my forearm and look almost two-dimensional because of the perfection of their shells. The spiral shape of the nautilus/ammonite is one seen in design a lot, probably because it is so pleasing, and I found a vase in the Mycenaean gallery with a similar spiral pattern. It’s amazing to think that the little jar is 3,500 years old!
After a quick look around the Egyptian rooms trying to view the Rosetta Stone through the shoulders of every single tourist in London, I went for a wander around as many galleries as I could in search of anything to do with textiles or more ammonites. To be honest, the BM isn’t the best museum to go to in search of textile history – it really is a HIStory museum (to use a somewhat hackneyed term) but in amongst the Greek and Roman artefacts there were some little gems. A few excuses in advance here for the photos – it was very hot, my phone screen wouldn’t light up properly and lots of sticky kids had put their hands on the display cabinets – I couldn’t see the photos properly till I downloaded them so they are not as clear as I would have liked!
Spinning and weaving isn’t as exciting as war and mummies so there aren’t that many artefacts which relate to what women would have been spending a lot of their time doing (the V&A is the museum to visit for textile history) but I did ferret out some spindles and loom weights in the Roman and Greek galleries, more loom weights from ancient Troy and an Athenian vase showing a woman spinning . What’s really amazing is how little drop-spindles have changed over the centuries. Much like the wheel – if the design is right, don’t change it!
This visit was just a brief reconnaissance and I’ll have to go back to find out more. There is just so much to see and it would be really interesting to find out just how our ancestors lived. I doubt that the weavers and spinners in ancient times had the spare time that we have to be able to enjoy our yarny hobbies and they wouldn’t have understood what a stash is, but I’d like to think that it wasn’t all just hard work for them.