Weekly theme: Making us human
Each week you'll be able to spin the globe to hear about five objects made in different places during the same time period and bound together by a common concept. First up, I've been talking to JD Hill, lead curator of A History of the World, about the opening week of programmes. He explains:
Naturally you want to start with the oldest objects in the Museum, which are also some of the oldest surviving artefacts in the world but from the very beginning it was quite clear that week one was always about becoming human. What we wanted to say was you can't be human without things.
Human life began in Africa and our ancestors created the first stone tools to chop meat, bones and wood. Without these tools the evolution of our species could not have happened. It was making and using objects that allowed humans to adapt to different and changing environments, to build, to cultivate the land.
Under the title 'Making us human', the objects that start the series include a stone chopping tool from Africa, which dates as far back as two million years ago, a stone handaxe and a spear point, evidence of the first inhabitants of the Americas.
But the programmes don't just look at tools. From about 40,000 years ago, during the last Ice Age, humans created the world's first representational art. At 13,000 years old, the Swimming Reindeer is one of the earliest pieces of art we have.
It's difficult to really understand the degree to which we are made by things. It's only when we go back in time to see how this began that this fact hits home. It isn't that we are the only animal to use tools; it's that we rely on them for survival and we depend on them, to say who we are.
We use these things to make statements about ourselves, express our ideals, our imaginations, in ways in which no other animal does. The first week of programmes is about telling the story of how that happened.
But why did the week start with an ancient Egyptian mummy?
Ancient Egypt and its mummies are often the first encounter many of us have with historical objects and museums. So, says JD, this is a fitting way to kick the whole series off.
Most of us came into the British Museum for the first time to see the mummies but this Museum is far, far more than just mummies and in some ways that's a good metaphor for this series. As a child I had to be dragged through the mummy gallery with my eyes firmly shut. I was too scared to even look at them.
It's good to know that embarking on such a voyage of discovery is daunting even for the keenest academic minds.