A Very Brief History of the World in only 6 objects

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At the recent Tarvin Meeting Point meeting (Thursday 13th) members looked at some of the objects defined by Neil Macgregor as significant in the development of human life and society. The original list had 100 items, all found in the huge collection of treasures in the British Museum.


Two pieces of inscribed clay, a cuneiform tablet from Mesopotamia from 3000 BC and a fragment of one of the earliest written pieces of fiction, the Flood tablet from Assyria in 700Bc, were the first two objects discussed.

flood tablet

The former showed a list of daily beer rations for workers in one of the first city states where state control — bureaucracy — was developing to manage the growing societies. The second small tablet tells the story of a flood, written centuries before the Bible recorded the Noah story, and caused a sensation when first translated in the mid-Victorian era. The writing down of stories allowed the tale to be fixed and, perhaps more importantly, translated and shared with others.

warren cup

The Warren Cup, a beautifully decorated silver vessel has a more dubious history. Decorated with homoerotic images it is believed to be from the Roman period when attitudes to homosexuality were quite relaxed. Often hidden during the centuries because of the nature of the decorations, it finally came into the possession of an American collector, Edward P Warren. It was bought by the British Museum in 1999 for over £1million, but the authenticity of the cup has recently been questioned. Some experts believe it was not created in the first years of the first century to adorn a rich Roman's villa, but in the 1900's to open the purse strings of a gay and gullible collector!
From the ancient times, trade spread goods, people and ideas and by the end of the first century complex trading routes covered much of the known world.

viking silver

In 2007 a hoard of Viking silver was found just outside Harrogate and among the coins found were pieces from Scandinavia, Russia and Central Asia — or from Scunthorpe to Samarkand as Neil Macgregor brilliantly described it! One coin found was minted in York just after Athelstan, grandson of Alfred the Great, had united the country to become, for the first time, King of All the Britains, a significant moment in our history.

glass beaker

A glass beaker, inscribed with Christian symbols and dedicated to St Hegwig, was made by Islamic glassworkers in Syria and came to Europe during the Crusades, indicating that even a holy war could not disrupt the commercial activities of the time.

wave japan

The last item was the iconic Japanese print The Great Wave of Kanagawa, produced in 1830 just before Japan opened up its borders to foreign influence. This image, one of a series of 36, was produced by master, woodblock artist, but the picture was reproduced by the thousand and individual copies could be bought quite cheaply. The age of mass-production had arrived.
For more information on the 100 objects
click here

The next meeting will look in further detail at what it means to be human and will be on Thursday 27th November at 7.30pm. For details call Sue on 01829 741962