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Small Museum for Smalls

I came to The Small Museum as a visitor today, along with a couple of little visitors.

Henry checked out the not so colossal foot. We tried to fit it in some size 5s but sadly it didn’t fit!

Arthur put the objects in height order…he remembered what George had said about Nandi Bull being bigger than a tree so guessed him the biggest.


Felix had them enthralled with his sensor which made a picture of the foot get bigger and smaller on the screen…


And, like everyone else, they signed the visitors book.


Thanks for making us so welcome!

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Day 7: Colossal feet

We’ve discovered there are lots of colossal feet in the British Museum collection. Mac and I were wondering why people collected these colossal feet, rather than other parts of the body. Is it that they are instantly recognisable? More interesting to look it? The touch point?

Eighteenth-century collectors would collect limbs as curiosities. One of the most famous sets is the Colossus of Emperor Constantine at the Palazzo dei Conservatori (Capitoline Museum) in Rome. There’s a colossal head, right hand, and foot of a seated statue.

By user:Lalupa (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By user:Lalupa (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Felix was reminded of Cassius’s speech in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar (Act 1, Scene 2), describing Caesar’s tyrannical nature

Why, man, he doth bestride the narrow world
Like a Colossus, and we petty men
Walk under his huge legs and peep about
To find ourselves dishonorable graves.


And while we’re on the subject of colossus, we shouldn’t forget to mention the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Maarten van Heemskerck [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Maarten van Heemskerck [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Day 6: Henry Salt

Today I found out that a whopping 1,659 objects in the British Museum collection were bought from Henry Salt. A good few more were ‘donated by’, ‘from’ and ‘purchased through’ him, so the true figure is probably over 1,700.

Today we were investigating the Goddess Hathor. She originally sat as part of the Temple of Amenhotep III but when that was ruined in an earthquake she moved to the Temple of Merenptah (a mere 8 minutes walk away, according to Google Maps!)

She was excavated (probably between 1824 and 1827) by Giovanni Battista Belzoni, who was working for Salt. And she was auctioned at Sothebys and bought by the British Museum in 1835.

Henry Salt (1780 – 1827) seems to have been a key figure for the British Museum’s Egyptian collection.

He became British Consul-General for Egypt in 1815. He sponsored excavations, carried out his own excavations and wrote on deciphering hieroglyphs.

Through his two agents (Belzoni and D’Athanasi) he built up his ‘First Collection’ within two years of arriving in Egypt. It was offered to the British Museum in 1818, it looks like the terms were finally agreed (£2,000) in 1821 or even 1823 as those dates crop up a lot.

His ‘Second Collection’ of over four thousand objects (collected 1819-1824) were sold to Charles X of France for £10,000.

His ‘Third Collection’ were auctioned off at Sotherby’s in 1835 (after his death). There were 1,083 objects on offer and the British Museum bought many of these. Hathor was one of them.

The Museum’s Egyptian galleries would look wholly different without the objects bought from Salt.

He was responsible for the paintings from the Tomb of Nebamun (around 1350BC)

Some of the massive Egyptian sculptures that dominate Gallery 4.

And some of the most popular mummies, including three of the animals.

I didn’t go for a pun in the title, but can’t resist…there’s no denying, he was a real Salt Seller.

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Day 5: Box with a brain

Today we’re giving the box a brain.

Can the box know what’s in it? Can it know when you pick something up? Can it tell you what it is?

Adrian has brought his magic box of tricks, and his own (amazing) brain.

Arduino kit

Adrian’s Arduino kit

We are using RFID (Radio-frequency identification) tags to identify the different objects.

The RFID stickers were a bit big for most of the objects, so we stuck them on plinths so we could attach the tags.


Then Adrian did some magic…the RFID reader senses the tag, the Arduino reads the tag and sends it to the Raspberry Pi (some readers can speak directly to Pis, but we didn’t have one like that).


And now when you put the Rosetta Stone on the reader you can hear what it is and a translation of the text.


Now we’re going to record the names and label text for all the objects.

And we’re (well, Adrian is) going to set up an infra-red distance sensor to allow us to play different translations of the Rosetta Stone (a different language plays depending on the distance).

The options are endless…

Could people add something to the object and send it on to someone else?

Can we put different boxes in close proximity and they talk to each other?

Can the box collect stories? or responses to stories? or answer questions?

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Day 4: Flower power

We’ve found some amazing photos of Nandi Bull in situ.

Often he is adorned with stunning flowers in vibrant oranges and yellows.

Nandi Chamundi Mysore

Nandi Chamundi Mysore, By Sanjay Acharya (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL], via Wikimedia Commons

Today I had much fun embracing my inner-crafter, creating some flowers for our display.

Creating flowers for Nandi Bull

Here is the first batch.

Tissue paper flowers for Nandi

Here’s the full display.


And Tom S and George with the reveal.


Remember to whisper your wishes to Nandi, he has the ear of Lord Shiva.

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String Map


With the objects in real world height order (tallest at the far end), we attempted to visualise the date data.

Down the lefthand side are the produced/created/made dates.

Down the righthand side the date they were acquired by the British Museum.

Produced/made/created dates

They range from 1500BC to 1950AD. We’ve added some dates in Sharpie now – which helps!

The dates were kind of tricksy. Obviously there are your BCs and ADs, some objects ‘made date’ span a century or two, while others are linked to a civilisation (Mexica for Xochipilli) or a dynasty (18th Egyptian dynasty for Hathor). Luckily brown paper, string and tape are very forgiving. You get the gist right?

Acquisition dates

Love that the tallest was the most recent acquisition, and shortest was the earliest. Not really relevant in any other space than here, just meant we needed a lot of string.

Hot pink

Glad I wore my hot pink trainers to go with the washi masking tape.

And Tom has made this most excellent fly-through: