British Museum chooses 100 objects to distill world history

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It was a project so audacious that it took 100 curators four years to complete it. The goal: to tell the history of the world through 100 objects culled from the British Museum’s sprawling collections. The result of endless scholarly debates was unveiled, object by chronological object, on a BBC Radio 4 program in early 2010, narrated by Neil MacGregor, director of the museum. Millions of listeners tuned in to hear his colorful stories – so many listeners that the BBC, together with the British Museum, published a hit book of the series, “The History of the World in 100 Objects,” which is being published in the United States on Monday.

These objects, some humble, some glorious, embody intriguing tales of politics and power, social history and human behavior. The oldest – a 2 million-year-old chopping tool made from stone found in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania – was “the beginning of the toolbox,” MacGregor said. About a bird-shaped pestle found by the Aikora River in New Guinea around 6000-2000 B.C., he wrote, “The history of our most modern cereals and vegetables begins around 10,000 years ago,” adding, “It was a time of newly domesticated animals, powerful gods, dangerous weather, good sex and even better food.”

Discussing David Hockney’s 1966 etching of two men lying in bed side by side, MacGregor notes, “It raises perplexing questions about what societies find acceptable or unacceptable, about the limits of tolerance and individual freedom, and about shifting moral structures over thousands of years of human history.”...

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