The visiting exhibition “Treasures of the World’s Cultures” opened on Friday, and showcases just 250 of the British Museum’s estimated seven million holdings, focussing on what different cultures once considered their own “treasures.”
“What we have here, you can’t find in London,” Sven Bergmann, spokesman of the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany – which is hosting the collection – told The Local.
“What we are showing here really are the highlights of the collection. Within two hours you can see the treasures of human history from every continent,” he said.
The idea of “treasures” is the central concept of the exhibition. But this isn’t about the financial value of the items; what counts is the value of the objects for the societies which created them.
It’s an interesting take on the notion of treasure, and one which Bergmann was keen to elaborate on. “Here it’s about what societies at different times prized most,” he said. “This wasn’t necessarily because they were worth a lot of money, but could be for a whole range of religious, cultural, economic or political reasons.”
So while some of the treasures on display will immediately strike viewers as valuable in the conventional sense – such as the solid gold earrings from Sardinia dating from 700-500 BCE – others have a more symbolic value.
The 3000-year-old Egyptian mummy on display – an embalmed and tightly swaddled corpse preserved from decay for eternity – might strike us as more as morbidly fascinating than highly significant. But for the ancient Egyptians, only the intact body could be reunited with its soul after death, lending the mummy a whole new layer of meaning.
An original hand axe from 800,000 BCE represents one of the most important technological innovations of the era.
The exhibit includes everything from Chinese porcelain to throwing knives, Arabic calligraphy to Greek busts, painted skins to works by Michelangelo and Renoir.
“We’d like the visitor to return home with a sense of gratitude and awe for what the world’s cultures have achieved,” said Bergmann.