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.
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.
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.
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.
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!