16 March 2018 by Eleanor Webster
Since our China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors exhibition opened at World Museum, visitors have hailed the exhibition as a ‘once in-a-lifetime experience’. The exhibition not only showcases a number of objects which have never been seen before in the UK, but it is also just the third time that the terracotta warriors have been on show in the UK – and the first time they have come to Liverpool – since their discovery in 1974.
1 March 2018 by Jennifer Grindley
For World Book Day, we’re celebrating all things literary. From some of the world’s earliest writing to botanical books that hold precious specimens, explore books and writing in its many forms across World Museum’s diverse collections.
Cuneiform script is one of the world’s earliest systems of writing and was first developed by the ancient Sumerians of Mesopotamia around 3500-30000 BC. It’s likely that cuneiform was created not for scripture, literature or letters, but for accountancy. This clay tablet is inscribed with administrative text giving a list of supplies for a possible construction project at a location away from, but near the ancient city of Umma. The inscription reads: [Obverse] 90000 litres of barley (by the measure of) Agade 18000 + 9000 litres of salt 1200 litres of lard 900 small brick moulds [Reverse] 12000 litres of straw (from) Umma Naidmahras the scribe carried it away year 2 month 7.
Dating back to AD 1200-152, the Codex Fejéváry-Mayer is one of the most precious and remarkable artefacts to have survived from the time before Hernán Cortés destroyed the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, in 1521. This sacred or ‘dream’ book is a condensed or ritualised version of reality which deals with fundamental human experiences. It is made from deer hide folded into 23 pages and painted with pictograms rather than words derived from an alphabet. The Codex portrays a ‘map’ of the cosmos, a series of gods, a calendar system known as day counts associated with the maize harvest, and long-distance traders. Aside from its literary and artistic merit, it was used for education and to make assessments of the future.
Book of the Dead
This ancient Egyptian collection of spells was designed to guide the recently deceased through the obstacles of the underworld, ultimately enabling them to achieve eternal life. Almost 200 spells survive, though no one collection contains all of them. The final hurdle was to be judged at the court of Osiris. Here, a person’s heart was removed and weighed by the god Anubis against a feather which represented truth. A light heart meant an honest life and entry to the afterlife. Djedhor’s Book of the Dead can be seen in full for the first time in our Ancient Egypt gallery.
The botany department at World Museum houses an extensive botanical library, with books containing specimens of national and international significance. World Museum’s botany collections are particularly rich in material from some of the pioneer explorations of the world’s flora, dating back to the late 1700s and are still being added to today. Liverpool’s worldwide links as a port are highlighted in the collections which hold a wide geographic spread.
The Han Dynasty (206 BC – AD 220) was one of the longest surviving Chinese dynasties and rivalled the almost contemporary, but smaller Roman Empire. Following a period of civil war after the succession of Qin Shi Huang’s son in the Qin Dynasty, rebel leader Liu Bang defeated his rivals and became Han Gaozu, the First Emperor of the Western Han Dynasty. Spanning more than 400 years with only minor interruptions, the Dynasty was characterised by significant advances in science, technology, mathematics, astronomy and literature which can still be felt in China today.
Explore this golden age of Chinese history through some of the objects that feature in our China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors exhibition:
Terracotta cavalrymen and horses
The rulers of the Han Dynasty followed in the footsteps of the Qin kings and showed a strong belief in gods, spirits and the afterlife. Discoveries so far suggest that, like the First Emperor of China, they had armies of terracotta warriors and horses to protect them, as well as servants, entertainers and animals. These cavalrymen and horses are two of more than 500 figures buried near the tomb of a general at Yangjiawan. Originally, the cavalrymen held the reins in one hand and a weapon in the other, and details of the saddles, harnesses and bridles were painted on the figures with bright colours.
People decorated many objects with images of wild and mysteries animals during the Qin and Han periods. In the Han Dynasty, the animal mask became a popular motif used to decorate the handles of various objects such as doors, vessels and coffins. This ornamental handle was probably attached to a coffin, and is missing a bronze ring which would have hung from the mouth of the creature.
A comparison of major tombs dating from the Spring and Autumn Period (771 – 476 BC) to the Han Dynasty, reveal a great increase in the use of jade between the third and second centuries BC. Jade was more valuable than gold as it was strongly associated with immortality, and its use was restricted to the highest members of society. Coffins of high-ranking individuals were embellished with protective jade discs such as this one which is the largest ever discovered in China. The hole in the centre of the disc is designed to allow the spirit of the deceased to travel in and out.
Pottery model of a well
Models of buildings and real-life objects such as houses, granaries, cooking stoves and wells were very popular in the Han Dynasty, and were produced specifically for burial in tombs. This was not the life-sized world of the scale created by China’s First Emperor, but miniature versions of the world the deceased had lived in. In modern China, many people still believe in the afterlife and worship their ancestors in cemeteries or at home. They buy miniature paper models of servants, horses, houses, cars, money and even iPhones as offerings for their relatives so they can enjoy their life in the next world.
Emperors used gold ingots as gifts to reward their subjects or as gold reserves to store their wealth. Many ingots were stamped or engraved with inscriptions such as family names or good luck messages, and more than 400 gold ingots dating to the Han Dynasty have been found in China so far.
Pottery zun 樽 wine container
Containers of this shape were made to store liquors such as wine. Ancient Chinese wine was made from fermented grain and rice wine is still one of the most popular drinks in China today. This green glazed pottery ‘zun’ is decorated with cloud designs around the sides. Its lid is in the shape of a mountain; probably representing the mythical ‘Isles of the Immortals’.
It was common for wealthy individuals to have a stone door built at the entrance of their tomb which was carved with images of mythical creatures to guard against evil spirits. On the lintel at the top of this doorway, the sun is shown on the right as a red circle with a black bird, while the moon appears as a circle on the left. Together with the clouds depicted on the doorframe, they represent a celestial space high above the human realm. Images of dancing figures and chariots on the doorframe illustrate the activities at the tomb site during the ceremonial service. Two immortals in black at the top on each side of the doorframe are poised ready to guide the deceased to heaven.
Coins with Greek script
Bearing Parthian-style Greek inscriptions on one side and decorated with a Han-style dragon on the reverse, these coins offer a glimpse into the cultural exchange between China, Greece and Central Asia via the Silk Road. The establishment of this huge network of trade routes linking China to the Mediterranean extended over 7,000 kilometres and created new opportunities for Chinese merchants who traded silk, lacquerware and salt in exchange for gold, jade, silver, ivory, glass, spices and exotic goods.
Brass incense burner
Up until the Han Dynasty, people burned fragrant plants as incense. In later times, it became more common to heat scented wood with charcoal. Exotic incense imported via the Silk Road became one of the most expensive goods traded in the Han Dynasty.
Discover more fascinating objects from the Han Dynasty at our landmark exhibition, China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors which runs from 9 February until 28 October 2018.
22 February 2018 by Chrissy Partheni
Roman religion, especially during early Imperial times, was to a great extent formal and public, with organised rituals and hierarchies of divinity and priesthood. But there were also popular cults and informal religious practices and beliefs, like the ones represented in our collection of magical gem stones. Read more…
One of my favourite parts of being a curator is the detective work done in storerooms, archives and libraries. I really enjoy making a match between an object and an archive reference. This is incredibly useful when you’re curating a collection that was devastated by a fire in the Second World War. Many objects salvaged from the ruins of the museum were no longer marked with an accession number – the unique number that links object with documentation. Objects were reassigned new numbers but they had lost their ‘identity’. Without the original number we can’t easily identify an object in the archives that record its history. Their ‘biography’ was stripped away by the fire. We don’t know who donated it to the museum or where and when it was excavated. Sadly, without that background story, it becomes a little bit less of an object. Read more…
China’s First Emperor, Qin Shi Huang, was born on this day (18 February) in 259 BC – that’s 2,277 years ago! Famed for his army of terracotta warriors built to protect him for eternity, the Emperor is also one of the most controversial figures in history. Seen as a visionary by some and a tyrant by others, his achievements in such a short space of time were nevertheless remarkable and far-reaching. On his birthday, we take a closer look at the life of the man at the heart of our landmark exhibition. Read more…
15 February 2018 by Scott Smith
February marks the start of the new lunar year, and it’s during this time that millions of people across the world will gather to celebrate Chinese New Year. Starting on 16 February, we’ll have seven days of joyous festivities filled with fireworks, lanterns and revelry as the city is lit up in red.
This year is the beginning of the Year of the Dog, defined by the Chinese zodiac cycle. Dogs are the eleventh sign in the zodiac and are seen as independent, sincere and decisive. Honest and loyal, dogs are the truest friends and most reliable partners. Those born in 1922, 1934, 1946, 1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006 all fall under the year of the dog.
To celebrate man’s most faithful of friends, we’ve pulled together a list of dogs from across National Museums Liverpool’s collections and exhibitions.
‘Table d’Hote at a Dogs’ Home’ by John Charles Dollman
Saint Valentine’s Day, our National day of love is celebrated by couples around the world. It just so happens that it falls under February, the month that we celebrate LGBT History Month – a month-long annual observance of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender history. So, we thought we’d take the opportunity to highlight some LGBT+ relationships from history that we think you should know about.
The artworks and objects discussed here are part of National Museums Liverpool’s collections and all relate in some way to intimate relationships between members of the same sex, both real and fictional, which go beyond platonic friendship in some way. All of these partnerships offer, in their own way, an alternative to the type of heterosexual relationship that continues to be socially dominant. Read more…
With only 2 weeks to go until our blockbuster exhibition China’s First Emperor and the Terracotta Warriors opens, we thought we’d run you through the top 10 most interesting facts about the warriors and the First Emperor’s burial pit!
Just before Christmas ten animal mummies were returned to World Museum after 40 years. The excitement all started in late October when I got an interesting message about a box of crocodiles and a cat from Hannah who works on the information desk at World Museum (it was like Christmas come early AND it was actually my birthday that day). Read more…