The history of the world in 100 objects

Beginning in January 2010, BBC’s Radio Four in conjunction with the British Museum will air 100 15-minute episodes each detailing the history of one object from the British Museum collection. The aim is to cover a vast stretch of history from 1.4 million years ago to modern times, and all over the globe, not just European history.

[Radio 4 controller, Mark] Damazer said each episode would feature a description of the object but most of it would focus on “areas where radio excels as a medium – on how the object was made, its political, economic and cultural significance, how the object came to be in the collection, and so on. I have heard those that have been made so far and they are wonderful.”

[British Museum director Neil ] MacGregor said he would look at each object in roughly chronological order, “spinning the globe so we can see what’s going on in the world at various moments”.

Each week will be focused around a particular theme, such as “after the Ice Age” and “meeting the gods”, with contributors including Bob Geldof, Wole Soyinka, Grayson Perry, Madhur Jaffrey and Seamus Heaney.

Some of the artifacts covered are a 1.4 million year-old hand axe from the Olduvai Gorge, a Chinese Zhou ritual bowl from 1000 B.C., the Croesus Coin (550 B.C.0 from what is today Turkey, thought the be the first modern form of currency, a bust of Roman Emperor Augustus (27-25 B.C.) and the Nef Galleon, a beautiful mechanical toy ship from 1500AD.

This project has been in the works for 3 years. It took MacGregor and a team of curators 2 years just to pick 99 artifacts from the 8 million pieces in the British Museum collection. The last object has yet to be chosen. They’ll wait until later next year to select it since it might not even exist yet.

There will be a companion website which is set to go live in January (it’s just a placeholder now). More information about all of the artifacts will be on the site, as will listeners’ submissions.

For those of us across the pond, every episode will be available on the site in podcast format. In an unprecedented move for the BBC, the podcasts will remain online for 2 years, so no need to rush over to the site to make sure you don’t miss one.