• Culture
The Exhibition of All Time
Text by Yi Mei


Inner Coffin of Shepenmehyt, Thebes, Egypt, c.600 BC. Olduvai stone chopping tool, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, Africa, 1.8-2 million years old. Bird-shaped pestle, Oro Province, Papua New Guinea, 6000-2000 BC. The Flood Tablet, Kouyunjik (Nineveh), Iraq, 700-600 BC.

The exhibition “A History of the World in 100 Objects” utilizes 100 articles to trace human history across 2 million years and reference every civilization in the whole world. Since its inception in 2014, the exhibition has toured cities including Abu Dhabi, Taipei, Tokyo and Canberra and welcomed more than a million spectators.

In March 2017, the exhibition arrived at the National Museum of China in Beijing, where it has invited the Chinese public to travel through time and enjoy the essences of various civilizations.


Origin of the Exhibition

The exhibition originated from a radio program called A History of the World, which was jointly produced by the British Museum and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) in 2010. The 100-episode program was narrated by Neil Macgregor, then director of the British Museum, and traced human history of 2 million years via the stories of 100 of the objects housed in the museum. The program grew so much in popularity that it once attracted 11 million listeners at once. A book based on the program, A History of the World in 100 Objects, was soon published and became a bestseller. In 2012, the British Museum decided to select 100 objects, including some of those mentioned in the radio program and book, to feature in a touring exhibition, which was formally launched in 2014.

Chosen from 8 million treasures housed in the British Museum, the 100 objects range from an Olduvai stone chopping tool made 1.8 million years ago to a modern solar-powered lamp, covering five continents.

The preface of the exhibition displays only one item, the Egyptian Inner Coffin of Shepenmehyt, from 600 BC. At a glance, the coffin looks the same as others from ancient Egypt, but its wood came from Lebanon, gold from Nubia, lapis lazuli from Afghanistan and pitch from Iraq. The coffin embodies the basic concept of the exhibition: It aims to highlight the commonalities and exchanges between civilizations rather than their differences. Although cultures show different features, they face, and try to solve, similar problems. Differences between cultures should not result in disputes, but opportunities to learn from each other.

“Cultures from all around the globe should be represented and be able to be viewed side by side,” says Dr. Belinda Crerar, a curator from the British Museum. “We hoped to illustrate how similar concerns and desires have motivated the development of human societies in all parts of the world and are reflected in the objects that they have made.”



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