Saturday, May 30, 2009

Treasures from the Past

Last weekend I found myself in Victoria, British Columbia , chaperoning my daughter's marching band for the Canadian Victoria Day celebration.

My daughter is a senior this year so there was a very special joy for me during the long weekend knowing that this would be my last field trip ever. Ever! That prospect filled my heart with joy as well as the discovery that there was a wonderful exhibit called "Treasures: The World's Cultures from the British Museum" at the Royal BC Museum.
I love museums, all kinds. And treasures from the British Museum were just too tempting to resist. So I ditched the band during one of their rehearsals and headed for the museum. I wasn't disappointed. Something I had always wanted to see was there . . . the Rosetta Stone.
It wasn't the real Rosetta Stone, for which I was grateful. That Rosetta Stone is actually where it should be--in a museum in el-Rashid (Rosetta), Egypt.
The inscription on the Rosetta Stone is a decree passed by a council of priests, one of a series that affirm the royal cult of the 13-year-old Ptolemy V on the first anniversary of his coronation.
The decree is inscribed on the stone three times, in hieroglyphic (suitable for a priestly decree), demotic (the native script used for daily purposes), and Greek (the language of the administration). The importance of this to Egyptology is immense. Soon after the end of the fourth century AD, when hieroglyphs had gone out of use, the knowledge of how to read and write them disappeared.

In the early years of the nineteenth century, some 1400 years later, scholars were able to use the Greek inscription on this stone as the key to decipher them. Thomas Young, an English physicist, was the first to show that some of the hieroglyphs on the Rosetta Stone wrote the sounds of a royal name, that of Ptolemy. The French scholar Jean-Fran├žois Champollion then realized that hieroglyphs recorded the sound of the Egyptian language and laid the foundations of our knowledge of ancient Egyptian language and culture.

Gazing upon the etched surface of the basalt tablet, I could sympathize with the scribe who painstakingly carved each perfect symbol then letter. The words and symbols were so tiny, perfect, and yet durable enough to last throughout the ages.

It also made me really appreciate modern technology.

Have you ever seen a piece in a museum that made you stop and wonder?

8 comments:

Cindy Holby May 30, 2009 at 8:32 AM  

I love going to museums. I can't wait to hit the Smithsonian this summer when we go to DC.

It amazes me how painstakingly slow writing used to be. We type with out giving it conscious thought but while watching Pride and Prejudice last night it made me realize how long it must have taken Jane to write it with pen and parchment.

Also made me realize how much time I waste not writing

Mari May 30, 2009 at 11:25 AM  

This is kind of disturbing, but has anyone ever seen the bog bodies? I went to the museum in Denmark and they are really fascinating, if eerie! The bodies are very well preserved because bogs have very little oxygen.

Gerri Russell May 30, 2009 at 9:01 PM  

Hi Mari,

No, I haven't seen the Bog Bodies, but they do sound interesting. I'll do a Google search on them.

I enjoy studying past cultures through the people who once lived in them. Once things stop looking like human remains, ie mummies or the like, I have an easier time distancing myself and thinking about the culture and the times rather than the actual person.

Have you ever been to the La Brea tar pits in Los Angeles? They have fully preserved animals who got stuck in the tar like woolly mammoth and sabertooth tigers.

Gerri Russell May 30, 2009 at 9:03 PM  

Cindy,

I am very much looking forward to DC and the Smithsonian. I've never been before.

Have you ever tried to write with a quill on parchment? It is agonizing!

April May 31, 2009 at 5:12 AM  

I’ve been to the Smithsonian! Although I’m still not sure why it’s called “the” Smithsonian - there are 13 or 14 different museums. I made the mistake of spending my free time in just one. I unintentionally spent about a half hour in front of the US flag that flew during the Battle of Baltimore, which Francis Scott Key described in our National Anthem.

The most inspiring treasure I’ve seen was the Levi Coffin House in Fountain City, IN. It was the central hub of the underground railroad during, and shortly after, the Civil War. The house is completely saturated with the strength of the human spirit.

EmilyBryan May 31, 2009 at 9:19 AM  

Yes, Mari. I saw a bog body in the British Museum years ago. Well preserved, but disturbing is the right word. The one I saw had his throat slit before he was tossed into the bog. Talk about a cold case.

I am a museum junkie. One of my most moving moments was finding a Gutenberg Bible at the British Museum. I stood transfixed, thinking about how that Book and the new moveable type technology that produced it, changed the world. Tears started streaming down my cheeks.

My daughter patted my shoulder and said, "It's ok, Mom. It's just an old book."

Amanda McIntyre June 2, 2009 at 6:03 AM  

I adore museums! I am so looking forward to hitting the Smithsonians and other museums in Washington, D.C. as well!
One of my fav museums is the Field Museum in Chicago. I can do some serious dawdling at that place! ;)We were lucky to be there during one of the tours of the King Tut exhibit.

One of the many fascinating items was the Canopic Jar( a storage place for the internal organs-except the heart) usually designed with images of protective figures, guarding them on the journey to the next life. A truly amazing culture when you delve into it.

Also, as Cindy mentioned about Jane Austin, I often think of Shakespeare when I write as I do my first draft in longhand and then edit/embellish as I type it. I oft times look at my fingers where ink has smudged, where the side of my hand is shiny , polished smooth from rubbing against the paper and consider the tenacity and passion for storytelling he must have had.

Amanda McIntyre

Bonnie Vanak June 2, 2009 at 9:53 AM  

Nice post, Gerri. I love museums and can spend all day in one.

Cindy Holby

Gerri Russell

Joy Nash

Bonnie Vanak

Emily Bryan

C.L. Wilson

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