THATMuse

By Halle Trang

It might come as no surprise to you that museums are very popular locations to film in. Some of the greatest museum halls in London and Paris act as great backdrops for action scenes, and the actual art pieces provide amazing visual appeal in music videos. We scoured the internet to find movie clips and music videos that were filmed in the very museums we host treasure hunts in. Keep reading below to find out which movies were filmed in the Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, British Museum, Natural History Museum, and the V&A!

JEAN-LUC GODARD’S BANDE A PART (1964)

Louvre, 40-second movie clip

This short clip comes from Jean-Luc Godard’s Bande á Part, which shows three naughty New Wave teens in the 60s, running through the venerable halls of the Louvre. How different the museum looked back then! Do you recognise the rooms they’re racing through or the Daru stairs they’re tumbling down? Can you imagine the stairs being as empty today?

THE CARTERS’S “APES**T” (2018)

Louvre, 6-minute music video

This is a 6-minute music video by Beyonce and Jay-Z in the Louvre taken place in the Denon & Sully wings at night. Please note there are many expletives in this song, so you may want to view before sharing it with your children. I show it to my kids every time we visit, quizzing them on naming the painters, dates, periods and titles of the works that appear (from Venus de Milo to Gericault’s Raft of Medusa and the Great Sphinx of Tanis), but completely understand if you want to edit this due to the swear words.

MARTIN SCORSESE’S HUGO (2011)

Musee d’Orsay, 1-minute movie clip of opening scene

Although it was once a train station, the Musee d’Orsay has now been transformed into the wonderful museum that it is. It is most commonly known for its clocks, which were repurposed and are now used as windows that overlook the beautiful city of Paris. This opening scene in Hugo shows the main character climbing to the top and looking out at the Parisian streets through the clock face.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK’S BLACKMAIL (1929)

British Museum, 3-minute movie clip

We can instantly recognise the tall columns of the British Museum’s main entrance in this movie clip, which shows a chase scene through the museum and what was once the British Library. This was one of Hitchcock’s first films to have a chase scene near a famous landmark, foreshadowing other greats like North by Northwest. Imagine if we had access to the domed roof like the actors did!

PAUL KING’S PADDINGTON (2014)

Natural History Museum, 4-minute behind-the-scenes video

Taxidermist and antagonist Millicent Clyde, played by Nicole Kidman, only has one goal in mind: capture Paddington the bear for his rare hide. This clip gives viewers a behind-the-scenes look into the making of the film. Many of the Kidman scenes take place in the museum’s animal exhibitions, but can you spot any other famous attractions? (Think dinosaurs!)

ALEX KURTZMAN’S THE MUMMY (2017)

Natural History Museum, 1-minute behind-the-scenes video

Once again, a movie is filmed displaying the grand staircase in the central hall of the Natural History Museum. In this short 1-minute clip, Tom Cruise’s character is seen running across this area as shards of glass and dust fly towards him. Do you think the museum looks exactly the same as in the 2014 film Paddington?

THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS’S “HEY BOY HEY GIRL” (2008)

Natural History Museum, 3-minute music video

Our third find in the Natural History Museum comes not from a film, but a music video! The Chemical Brothers, a British big beat duo, came out with this song in 1999, but it wasn’t until 2008 that the music video for it was published on Youtube. In this music video, a young schoolgirl roams around the museum on her own and stares in fascination at the various skeletons and fossils around her.

DAVID KOEPP’S MORTDECAI (2015)

Victoria and Albert Museum, 2-minute movie trailer

The National Art Library’s reading rooms found in the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) in London are popular filming areas due to their grandeur and great lighting. In this movie trailer, you can see Lord Charlie Mortdecai (Johnny Depp) and Inspector Alistair Martland (Ewan McGregor) discussing a missing painting in those exact reading rooms from 0:25-0:37.

Can you think of more films or music videos that take place in any other museums across London or Paris? Let us know in the comments below!

Terracotta bust of Sir Hans Sloane, Founder of the British Museum
Hans Sloane

Dubbed the first national public museum in the world, the British Museum didn’t start off as a grand, Greek-style building full of Egyptian mummies, Roman statues and Aztec turquoise. The museum has changed quite a bit in its almost 300-year history, but began with the donation of Hans Sloane (above), a high-society Irish physician – who also invented hot chocolate. What claims to fame!

Upon his death in 1753, Sloane bequeathed his collection of fantastic antiquities, books, and natural specimens to the nation. King George II and Parliament wanted Sloane’s collection to be seen by the people, not sit in a basement somewhere collecting dust. So later that year, Parliament passed the The British Museum Act, which formally established the British Museum at Montagu House – which stood on the spot of the current British Museum. To add some variety to Sloane’s science-heavy collection, Parliament included the Cottonian Library and Harleian manuscripts in the new museum for a taste of literature and art.  

FUN FACT: The board of trustees almost bought a place called Buckingham House, which some of you might know better as its current incarnation – Buckingham Palace.

As the collection grew, so did the museum. In the 1880s, the natural history collection had grown enough to become a museum in its own right. The collection moved to a building in South Kensington, in what we know now as the Natural History Museum.   

FUN FACT: Entry to the Natural History Museum is free. It has a fantastic collection of dinosaur skeletons too, including a famous 26-meter-long diplodocus. Check it out – and when you’re done, maybe go on a THATMuse treasure hunt at the V&A next door!

One of the most prominent additions to the British Museum was the introduction of the Elgin Marbles of the Parthenon, brought to the museum in 1812 by Lord Elgin. In 1931 funds were given by the controversial Sir Joseph Duveen to construct a new gallery for the Elgin Marbles. However, WWII got in the way and the gallery wasn’t opened until 1962. It was American architect, John Russell Pope, who designed the new gallery that you can now see today. Pope also designed the National Gallery in DC!

On the note of design, Robert Smirke is the man responsible for most of the recognizable parts of the British Museum you see today. The Quadrangle, the main section of the British Museum, was completed in 1852. You can still see it in the basic structure of the museum today, with wings in the north, south, east, and west. The first room to be competed was the Kings Library, finished in 1827. The library was one of main reasons the new building was built in the first place. King George the IV donated books belonging to his father, King George III, and the British Museum just didn’t have room for all of them! You can still see the restored Kings Library, though it is now called “The Enlightenment Room.”  

FUN FACT: The original design for the British Museum included dorms for museum staff, as the museum workers lived on site– which was common practice in those days!

Panorama of the British Museum Great court, staircases and central reading room, shadowed by norman foster's famous glass ceiling
Great Court in the British Museum

While the majority of the current British Museum was designed by Robert Smirke, one of the British Museum’s most distinctive features, the central court and dramatic glass ceiling (above), was designed by Norman Foster’s company (who also designed the famous Millenium – AKA “Wobbly” – Bridge!) The Queen Elizabeth II Great Court transformed the museum’s inner courtyard into the largest covered public square in Europe. The Great Court was a massive undertaking and was completed in 2000 to celebrate the new millennium. This beautiful and impressive space greets visitors as they first enter the museum – and what a vast number of visitors that is! For the past eight years, the British Museum has remained the U. K’s no.1 visitor attraction. Last year over 6.6 million people visited the British Museum to see the amazing history that it contains.

THATKid Tuesday is a monthly dose of Art History for kids, which will usually be posted on the first Tuesday of the month. In this series we’ll be blogging about different terms from the THATKid glossary we’ve created to help kids understand some of the art history terms that pop up in our hunts.

ATTIC BLACK-FIGURE DINOS, by the GORGON PAINTER Cerveteri (from Athens, Greece), Circa 580 BC

Continuous Narrative is when one painting, or piece of art, tells different parts of a story all at once. This means that the same figures are often shown over and over again in the same piece. This Greek Gorgon Pot, part of the Beauty & the Bestiary hunt at the Louvre, is an example of Continuous Narrative. The Greek pot above shows Perseus killing the monstrous Gorgon named Medusa. After Perseus has killed Medusa the pot also shows him being chased by Medusa’s Gorgon sisters. Kind of like a pre-classical movie or Snapchat story!

Fra ANgelico's coronation of the virgin, with life of st dominic predella
Fra Angelico also has an example of Continuous Narrative, telling us the story of St Dominic’s life in the predella.
Lion killed by arrows, Assyrian Lion Hunt frieze, British Museum
Lion Hunt, British Museum, Assyrian Art, 668-631 BC

If you go on our THATMuse hunt at the British Museum you’ll see yet another example of continuous narrative involving someone being chased, although this time it’s the people chasing the ‘beasts’ and not the other way around. The Assyrian Lion Hunt from Mesopotamia shows different stages of a lion hunt, including the fate of this unfortunate lion on the left! Although other parts of the story might make you feel a bit less sorry for the lions and a little more scared of them – look at the muscles in that lion’s arm, look at those claws!

Ashurbanipal chokes a lion with his bare hand and stabs it with a sword. Assyrian Frieze British Museum 600's BC
Lion Hunt, British Museum, Assyrian Art, 668-631 BC

Any questions about Continuous Narrative? Leave us a comment with any questions.

The idea for THATKid Tuesday stemmed from the Kid Pack’s glossary. The Kid Pack has supplemental exercises for after your Louvre hunt, from a Michelangelo Connect-the-Dots and a Mona Lisa sticker-puzzle to a Botticelli Spot-the-Difference. Good for train rides or long French dinners, kids can also pick up on some terms like composition, perspective and the lot. As THATMuse has grown to include the British Museum, the Victoria & Albert and Musée d’Orsay, THATKid Tuesday’s blog version has grown to include other examples.

Tune in the first Tuesday of the month if you’d like another art history dose of THATKid.

The THATMuse blog has content pieces about the actual museums where you’re hunting, but we’ve also amassed plenty of recommendations of what to do in Paris and London apart from your museum time. Check out our Travelling in Paris & London category on the blog for pieces from kid-friendly parks, cafes and toyshops to romantic cocktail lounges near our museums.

Having had fun reviewing cafes and pubs near the BM, past student intern Cheyenne has also put in her two cents on the great restaurants and cafes that are actually inside the British Museum. Considering London’s rain, you may just want to stay in the museum after your hunt and before you return to the galleries to linger over your treasure more slowly (the hope of our hunts is to extend your museum visit!)

Court Cafe

Nestled in the North-East and the North-West corner of the Great Court

British Museum Great Court Cafe
One of several Great Court Cafes

This double-sited cafe has plenty of little treats, such as scones, brownies, and other goodies to make your mouth drool! With long communal tables, you benefit from the impressive British Museum “Grand Court” view with natural light filtering in through Norman Foster’s famous glass ceiling. There are “Kid Packs” as well as sandwiches & hot & cold beverages. Perfect for when you’re looking for a delicious snack to recharge before you begin exploring once more.

Great Court Restaurant

3rd floor, Great Court

Diners at British Museum Great court  restaurant under Norman Foster glass ceiling
The Great Court Restaurant

If you’re looking for a good lunch (or dinner on Friday nights, when the museum is open late) then this is the place for you! It has a wonderful selection from great salads to a delicious dill salmon dish or steak frites. Or if you’d like to go local, they also have some great fish and chips if you’re in the mood to try some traditional British fare. They also do a formal, yet reasonably priced high tea*, although reservations for this might be useful as it can be popular (high teas are a formal affair and can run up a bill enormously). A plant-filled aerie, this is just below Norman Foster’s glass ceiling, and serves as the museum’s most formal restaurant.

Coffee Lounge

3rd floor, between the South stairs and Room 40

This is my personal favorite, as it’s right between two of my favorite galleries: Clocks & Watches and Money. They have some great open-face sandwiches, cake and make some absolutely amazing hot drinks. Whenever I need a quick breather from the actual museum, I like to come here and sip a hot chocolate while I people watch. If you happen to be near here on the hour, stick around and watch the fantastic Strasbourg Clock playing a sweet little tune on hour. This cafe is also the site of a Skull Scouting treasure hunt bonus question: teams have to trot like a Tang Horse for the café’s entertainment!

Montague Café

Near the Montague Place Entrance

A cute little café tucked into a corner, with plenty of snacks and hot drinks to suit your needs. Usually a little less busy than the cafes in or near the Great Court, it’s a great place to sit and have a quiet conversation over a coffee, although they also have small fruit bowls and chips for a snack. As a warning though, while Montague Place isn’t used quite as much as the main entrance, it does make a popular meeting point for school groups and tours, so it can get quite crowded in the entrance hall next to the café.

Sir Hans Sloane

bust of hans sloane british museum founder

This lovely gentleman right here is Sir Hans Sloane, whose collection is the basis of the British Museum. A physician and collector, Sloane amassed a huge array of scientific and historic artifacts — an impressive 71,000 books, manuscripts, natural specimens and “things relating to the customs of ancient times” which became the foundation of the museum.  Sloane started off his collecting spree by gathering natural specimens, many of which he got on an adventure in 1687 to Jamaica. During his time there, he amassed over 800 plants and other live specimens. He didn’t stop there though– Sloane became a collector of collections! He purchased collections by people such as William Charlton and James Petiver. Once word got around that Sloane enjoyed collecting these specimens and objects, you can bet that every birthday and Christmas he was gifted with more pieces to add to his collection.

Though the British Museum is known today primarily for its antiquities, it wasn’t until 1772 when Sir William Hamilton’s collection of Greek vases was bought by the museum that they began to accrue much of the classical antiquities collections. Now, the British Museum holds over 8 million objects – which all started from Sir Hans Sloane’s generous donation.

Hello! Here’s a post from our series, THATKid Tuesday which is a dose of Art History pieces for kids, simplified and illustrated. These terms are culled from the glossary found in our Kid Packs, booklets you receive on Luxe Hunts that offer families the possibility of taking the museum-interaction with them. I made the Kid Packs for families visiting London and Paris, b/c as a mother, I’ve really just wanted to have a glass of wine at the end of a lovely day touristing. Have found such exercises fun to engage my boys, Storsh and Balthazar, in quieter museum fun when we’re at cafes and restaurants. The Kid Packs have exercises like Botticelli spot-the-difference, Parthenon architectural vocab, Michelangelo connect-the-dots, some da Vinci Decoding (do you know he kept his journal in a secret language?!!) & even some color-in exercises for siblings with shorter legs. Fancy un-covering what our color-by-number Norman Foster ceiling at the British Museum shows?

human headed winged bull, Lamassu
Lamassus at the University of Chicago Oriental Institute of Art, Neo-Assyria (Iraq) 721-705 BC

Anyway, this THATKid Tuesday covers Mesopotamian Lamassus! These gentle giants symbolize protection and power in the ‘Fertile Crescent’ of Assyria and Babylon. Human winged bulls, I love these guys because they’re meant to be seen from different perspectives. How many legs do you see? Can you guess why they have so many legs? You can find them in many major museums, from the Louvre and British Museum and Met (NYC) across to collections in Chicago, Mumbai, Berlin and even New Haven, Connecticut. Making museum connections is so important. Lamassus also make me (strangely!) grateful to imperialism, because during a particularly painful period the terrorist group ISIS sledgehammered their own history, destroying Palmyra and defacing statues including Lamassus in museums across Syria and the Middle East.

human headed winged bulls at the British Museum
Lamassus at the British Museum: Human Headed Winged Bulls from Dur-Sharrukin (present day Khorsabad, Iraq)

You may have seen them if you’ve done a hunt at the Louvre or the British Museum. These creatures are ginormous Mesopotamian protective genies and palace gate-keepers. Serving architectural functions, they flanked gates to cities and palaces, protecting what was behind them.

You can see they have a king’s head and so have the intelligence of a human, their wings give them the swiftness of an eagle, while their powerful bodies give them the strength of a bull. A pretty good guard dog!

If you look closely you can see that they actually have five legs. Because of this, if you look at them straight on they appear to be standing at attention, guarding what’s behind them (their job, as well as the city wall or palace). But! If you look at them from the side — when you’ve been allowed to enter the gate — they look like they’re on the move. They’re doing what you’re doing as you enter the gate you’ve been allowed through, they’re walking!

human headed bulls, Lamassus
Lamassus au Louvre, from Sargon II’s palace in Dur Sharrukin (Khorsabad, Iraq)

Keep an eye out for these beauties in the Louvre, which have a whole room to themselves (above), and at the British Museum, where there are six Lamassus! If you pay careful attention, one of the British Museum Lamassus has some ancient markings between their legs (or are we being polite and it’s actually called GRAFFITI!?!). This is one of my favorite pieces in our Fun & Games treasure hunt, because it’s a 7th Century BC board game graffitied by some guards (to keep themselves entertained!)… And guess what? The REAL board game, The Royal Game of Ur, is upstairs in the British Museum (and of course another piece of treasure on that hunt!).

Any questions about Lamassus? Please leave a comment below!

Having covered the Old Kingdom and the Middle Kingdom, we’re now turning our attention to the New Kingdom, Egypt’s most prosperous and powerful period. The New Kingdom, from 16th century BC to 11th century BC, covered the 18th, 19th and 20th Dynasties. The latter part is referred to as the Ramesside Period, due to eleven pharaohs named Ramesses.

Granite statue of pharaoh Ramesses II in British Museum, From Egypt around 1300 BC
Ramesses II from the British Museum Collection

The Napoleon of Egypt, Thutmose III, consolidated and expanded the Egyptian empire to great success, leaving a surplus of power and wealth to his successors. Interestingly, his Co-Regent was Hatshepsut (left), the second female pharaoh of Egypt. Although they were technically co-regents, Thutmose was only 2 years old when the pair ascended to the throne, leaving virtually all of the power in Hatshepsut’s hand for 22 years, during which she enjoyed a highly successful rule, establishing trade routes and overseeing major building projects.

The Pharaoh Amenhotep IV followed this period. He changed his name to Akhenaten in order to honor the god Aten, in what could be interpreted as the first instance of monotheism in history. This change wasn’t very well received, and he was subsequently written out of Egyptian history! That said, although art flourished to an unprecedented level during his reign.  

The 19th Dynasty is more famous for its great military than anything. Ramesses II, called the Great, was caught in the first ever recorded military ambush. He remained unfazed and won the battle! Thus his moniker, Ramesses the Great. He fathered a TON of kids, which is why his sons’ tombs in the Valley of the Kings is the largest funerary complex in Egypt. His statue (above) is one of many that you can see in the British Museum.

Bust of Hapshepsut from the Met In New York
Hatshepsut at the Met in New York City

The 20th Dynasty would see the last ‘great’ pharaoh of the New Kingdom, Ramesses III. He defeated the Sea Peoples in two great land and sea battles, and settled them in Southern Canaan as his subjects. He also had to fight invaders from Libya, and these wars drained Egypt’s treasury and led to a decline in the empire. The first known labor strike in history occurred during his reign, when tomb-builders and artisans did not receive their rations. After his death, the pharaoh’s power continued to decline, hurried on by droughts, famine, and corruption throughout the land. The last of the Kingdoms was coming to its end, and so are our Ancient Egypt posts, sadly.

Ramsesses II in the British Museum The Pharaoh Amenhotep IV followed this period. He changed his name to Akhenaten in order to honor the god Aten, in what could be interpreted as the first instance of monotheism in history. This change wasn’t very well received, and he was subsequently written out of Egyptian history! That said, art flourished to an unprecedented level during his reign.   The 19th Dynasty is more famous for its great military than anything. Ramesses II, called the Great, was caught in the first ever recorded military ambush. He remained unfazed and won the battle! Thus his moniker, Ramesses the Great. He fathered a ton of kids, which is why his sons’ tombs in the Valley of the Kings is the largest funerary complex in Egypt.

Image result for valley of the kings
The Valley of the Kings near Luxor, Egypt

A Brief Look at the Egyptian Middle Kingdom

Following our post on the Old Kingdom, we’re now turning our attention to the Middle Kingdom (and yes, you guessed it, the next will be about the New Kingdom). 

Lintel of Amenemhat, 20th Century BC, Met Museum. Hieroglyphs and heads of the King, Anubis, Horus and attendants
Lintel of Amenemhat, 20th Century BC, Met Museum

The beginning of the Middle Kingdom (after a hiatus of turmoil and strife over a succession struggle) was messy and did not immediately follow the Old Kingdom. There were two factions vying to control all of Egypt with the 11th Dynasty of Thebes controlling the Southern part and the 10th Dynasty from Herakleopolis ruling the north. Eventually the Middle Kingdom started when Mentuhotep II, of the northern Thebes, won control & consolidated power.

The kings of the Middle Kingdom never reached the absolute power that the kings of the Old Kingdom did. That said, one of the most important traditions of Ancient Egypt was established during this time, that of appointing the king’s son as Co-Regent, a tradition that would continue into the New Kingdom.      

During the Middle Kingdom, the ‘block’ statue would become popular and remain so for almost 2,000 years. These statues consist of a man squatting with his knees drawn to his chest, and his arms folded on his knees. The one on the right is located in the British Museum. 

Red sandstone torso of Queen Sobekneferu from the Louvre museum. 18th Century BC.
Headless bust of Sobekneferu,

One of the most interesting facts about the Middle Kingdom is that it saw the first historically attested female king take power. Her name was Sobekneferu (you can see a headless bust of her at the Louvre — and on the left!), although she only ruled for four years, and her death signaled the end of both the 12th Dynasty and the Golden Age of the Middle Kingdom. She was followed by a succession of short-lived kings called the 13th Dynasty, although this is somewhat misleading because few of these kings were actually related. Eventually the unity of Egypt fully disintegrated, leading into the Second Intermediate Period, which would see no significant advancements in almost any aspect of Egyptian civilization. The period following this, the New Kingdom, will be the subject of our next and last post in the Ancient Egypt series.

Hey there! This is the first of a series of blog posts about the different kingdoms of ancient Egypt, by yours truly, Cheyenne, student intern at THATMuse. We’ll start with the Old Kingdom of Egypt, the first of the Kingdom periods.

Pyramid of Djoser, in the Saqqara necropolis near Memphis. 27th Century BC
Pyramid of Djoser, in the Saqqara necropolis near Memphis. Built by Imhotep in the 27th Century BC

First, it’s important to realize that the periods commonly recognized as the Kingdoms were first distinguished by 18th century historians, and these distinctions would not have been used by the Ancient Egyptians themselves. Specifically, the ‘Kingdoms’ refer to high points in the lower Nile Valley civilization. Some historians disagree on when exactly these periods began and ended, but there are some generally acknowledged dates for each of them. What we call the Old Kingdom of Egypt is commonly recognized as occurring from 2686 to 2181 BC, or from the Third Dynasty to the Sixth Dynasty.

During the Old Kingdom, the kings of Egypt (yes King! They weren’t called by the name of Pharaoh until the New Kingdom) were considered living gods with almost unlimited power throughout their physical kingdom. The first king of the Third Dynasty was Djoser, who moved the capital of Egypt to Memphis. His architect, Imhotep, is credited with developing a new architectural form, the Step Pyramid, which was to be used over and over throughout Egypt’s history. You can see a picture of his famous pyramid to the right.  

Djoser was followed by a succession of kings, most of whom carried on his tradition of building large and grand pyramids, which is why the Old Kingdom is sometimes referred to as ‘the Age of Pyramids.’ In fact, during the Fourth Dynasty, the Great Pyramid of Giza was built, and the Sphinx in Giza (below) is also thought to have been built during this time, although there is significant disagreement about exactly when, and who it was built by.  

The Sphinx and Great Pyramid of Giza in front of a bright blue sky
The Sphinx and the Great Pyramid at Giza

The Fifth and Sixth Dynasty saw a drastic weakening of the king’s power. Powerful nomarchs, which were similar to regional governors, gained more and more power, lessening the king’s by default. Civil wars after a succession crisis likely contributed to the downfall of the Old Kingdom, compounding by famine and a horrible drought in the 22nd century BC. The Nile didn’t flood normally for several years during a 50 year periods, causing extreme strife and unrest in Egypt. This period of turmoil is known as the First Intermediate Period, and the kingdom does not begin to recover until about 2055, the start of the Middle Kingdom, the subject of our next post.

side view of the Standard of Ur, shell and limestone and lapis lazuli mosaic on wooden frame. Ancient Sumeria 2600BC
The Standard of Ur, 2600BC

Continuing off our last post about Queen Puabi’s grave in the Royal Tombs of Ur, Mesopotamia is known as the “Cradle of Civilisation” because of things like their invention of the wheel. What would life be like right now if we didn’t have the wheel? In some of our Kid-Friendly THATBrits we dole out some extra THATMuse points (bonus points embedded in text so to be sure hunters stay alert to our precious text!) by asking them to scribble some things we could not do without the wheel, just to be sure they pause to see its significance.

Archeologist Sir Leonard Woolley made a tremendous discovery in what was the city of Ur (in Mesopotamia’s Sumer – today in southern Iraq). He excavated 1800 graves, 16 of which had so much treasure that he called them Royal Tombs.

Leonard Woolley holding uncovered Sumerian harp at city of Ur, in southern Iraq, 1920s
Leonard Woolley and one of his amazing finds

In display case 17 we have some of these treasures. The “Standard of Ur” is a hollow,trapezoidal-shaped mystery box (Woolley never figured out what it was for). But its decoration is of great interest. Mosaic scenes, little precious stones laid to make a recognizable pattern, or in this case to tell a story, made from shell, red limestone and lapis lazuli, set in bitumen give us the skinny on some objects within the Royal Tomb of Ur (or for us more conservative travelers, the British Museum room). On one side of the Standard is a Sumerian army, with chariots (the earliest known representation of the wheeled vehicles!) and horses rolling over their enemies (quite literally!) and infantry charging their enemy. What tickles me is that these little guys are all bald and in skirts. They do look awfully busy, though. The stories are divided into three rows, with the King presiding at top. We can recognize him easily, as he’s not only bigger than the others, his skirt is special — made of fleece.  You can see both sides on the image below.

Both sides of the Standard of Ur, sowing both city and battle scenes.
The Standard of Ur

On the other side the story’s all about peace and prosperity. Good times with a procession of men bringing animals, fish and other goods. At the top the king banquets among his friends, entertained by a singer and a man with a lyre. Don’t scoot off too quickly, though! That lyre has a bull’s head at the end of it, and brilliantly, the BM has placed the real lyre, also with bull’s head, in a nearby display case. Leonard Woolley excavated The Great Death Pit with an ingenious method of pouring hot wax over his finds and lifting them out to later reconstruct them when necessary. This was especially useful for the Royal Game of Ur, not too far away (and a prime “Fun & Games THATBrit” piece). But there’s another treasure that makes its way onto the story board of this Standard of Ur. If you take a look at the horses in the Sumerian war scene they all have a double loop on their backs. That was apparently to keep the horse’s reins in order, and an example of a real rein-loop is in this room, over in the display case with Queen Puabi, whom we’ve visited with in our last blog post.

When you’re on a hunt you’re going to be racking up these extra THATMuse points, what with all of this help from reading these posts! Within the hunt, the Standard only tells you to go find some objects within the mosaic, but thanks to doing some sleuthing prior to meeting au Musée, you know what you’re looking for!

Archeologist Sir Leonard Woolley made a tremendous discovery in 1922-32 when he uncovered the Royal Tombs in the Mesopotamian city of Ur (today’s Southern Iraq). This fantastic find is referred to as “the Great Death Pit”. As well it should! His excavation team unearthed 1800 graves, 16 of which had such treasures that Woolley titled them “royal tombs”, all dating from 2800-2370 BC. Below the simple graves of the common people lay the elite of Ur. Although commoners also made it to that lower level, as some of this Sumerian royalty were accompanied in the afterlife with their attendants!

Among the richest tombs was that of Queen Puabi (we know her name from a fine cylinder seal of lapis lazuli found in display case 13, above that adorable donkey on the double rein-loop). She lay on a wooden bier, a gold cup near her hand. She not only had 25 attendants in her midst, all laid out in orderly rows and with cups near their hands as well, in her adjacent chamber there were another 65 attendants (talk about getting help in the afterlife!). Some were musicians, as instruments such as a wonderful bull-headed harp, were found buried with their owners. The burial process here is a bit of a mystery, and Woolley had several hypotheses which evolved as he discovered more tombs over the course of the excavation.

Crushed skull and remains of gold headdress in British Museum
Queen Puabi’s intricate headdress and crushed skull

We don’t know the cause of Queen Puabi’s death, but do know that her skull was crushed, possibly from the weight of the soil over the thousands of years that passed before the Royal Tomb of Ur was discovered. She, like other fine ladies of Ur, was buried with an elaborate headdress that was crushed. (The picture above shows what the crushed skull and headdress look like today.) Leonard Woolley was ingenious at extracting these treasures, by way of pouring hot wax (THATMuse Bonus?) over them before lifting them out of the Great Death Pit, so to reconstruct them later (incidentally, Leonard’s wife, Katherine, reconstructed Queen Puabi’s headdress to its original grandeur with gold leaf and ribbons, sprinkling through treasured lapis lazuli pendants.)  The image below is an example of this beautiful headdress. 

gold headdress of leaves flowers and rings on a black model head, reconstruction of Quenn Puabi's burial at Ur, Mesopotamia 2600 BC
A reconstruction of the beautiful headdress

But let’s back up a bit, and ponder those attendants… When you think of Human Sacrifice you think of the Aztecs or Mayans, no? Well how can you explain all of her attendants? They can’t have ALL died voluntarily, just because their precious Queen died… Yet all the bodies were laid out in an orderly fashion, evidently peaceful. Originally Woolley thought they had been killed to reflect the King’s (or in this case, Queen’s) power. Yet they all had cups by their hands, just like Queen Puabi. Could this be a poison they voluntarily drank in loyalty Woolley wondered. Or perhaps (more likely to my imagination, although I’m not very subservient) they were sedatives and the real cause was sealing off the chamber to suffocate them. A few of the skulls on the other hand received blunt force trauma, implying a less than servile attitude to killing themselves for their Queen!

However you see it, the story of the Royal Tombs of Ur is pretty grisly – just right for a Skull Scouting THATBrit, or of course a Lady Hunt or Kings & Leaders hunt, wouldn’t you say?

The Aztecs in the British Museum

Turquoise double headed serpent with white shell teeth and red shell mouth and nose. Aztec, 15th century AD, British Museum
Aztec turquoise double headed serpent in the British Museum

The Aztecs had an extensive empire in Mexico, ruling from the Island metropolis of Tenochtitlan, in Lake Texcoco. They forged an imperial dynasty based on military prowess and a network of long-distance trade and tribute routes that stretched from the Caribbean to the Pacific.  They treasured the precious stone, turquoise, which among other green stones symbolized life-giving water and the sources of fertility. The mineral was scarce, and reserved for ritual objects and ceremonial regalia worn by priests and rulers. Aztec trading emissaries went as far as the South-West of North America (think Texas, New Mexico and Arizona) where there were mines of turquoise. However, only about 55 turquoise mosaics are known to have survived. Taking the scenic route to the BM’s room 27, here there are 9 of their finest examples. The BM bought them in Continental Europe – it’s thought that they may have made their way to Europe via Spanish Conquistador Hernan Cortes, who the Aztecs would have presented with such treasures upon his arrival to the coast of Mexico in 1519 AD.

Human skull decorated with turquoise and onyx with iron agate eyes and leather straps for wering. Aztec, 16th Century AD, British Museum
A real human skull decorated with onyx and turquoise.

Examples range from one of the BM’s highlight, a double headed snake. To a frightening skull, who would have dangled around the waist of a priest while he was making sacrifices (think cutting the heart out of some poor schmoe!). Then there are turquoise mosaics, such as on the handle of the sacrificial knife, in case the skull didn’t drive home the gruesomenature of their sacrifices, this knife was actually used in obtaining the live, blood-pumping hearts from their sacrificial victims!

A high priest would have needed their hands free (to hold the knife, presumably!), so the priest would have worn the skull dangling around his waist while performing a human sacrifice which was made in the belief that blood offerings kept the sun on its course. Now how’s that for grisly & gross?

Remember, hunters, if a sentence is bold it’s likely to be helpful on bonus questions for while you’re hunting!