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Revealing the 100th object

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Paul Sargeant Paul Sargeant | 06:00 UK time, Thursday, 14 October 2010

=======================   UPDATE - 11.32AM 14.10.2010    ========================


Watch a video of Neil MacGregor unveiling the 100th object in the British Museum and live on the Today programme.


=======================   UPDATE - 07.45AM 14.10.2010    ========================


The 100th object


The 100th object is the solar-powered lamp and charger.

It's an object that can bring electricity those who have never had it before, and may point the way towards a more sustainable source of power for all of us in the future.


The 100th object is to be revealed


The British Museum is revealing their 100th object at 7:45am on this morning’s Today programme. We’ve been looking at the five contenders this week but the final choice is still a mystery. All we know is that it’s “an object that tells the story of the ingenuity and the challenges that shape humanity in the 21st century.”

Looking at the five contenders, which of them best fits that description? You can argue that they all show some degree of ingenuity, though in the case of the pestle and mortar it’s the pretty basic kind of hitting rocks together, so I’m not sure that the ingenuity part is going to help us much.

I feel like it’s the ‘challenges of the 21st century’ that is going to be key to the final choice, so what challenges do each of these objects help define?

The football shirt has attracted a lot of discussion from football fans about whether it should have been a British footballer, such as Ryan Giggs or Steven Gerrard, but the 21st century challenge that it describes is the one of a globalised economy. This is an English football shirt for an Ivory Coast footballer made by a German sportswear company in China. That is a lot of nations with an investment in one shirt.

On the other hand, the pestle and mortar can also tell a story about globalisation. It tells us how it’s more than just goods and currencies that move between countries in a global economy; cultures and traditions travel too.

Then there’s the mobile phone, which shows how the large parts of the world currently left out of globalisation might be given access to the instant communication and spread of knowledge that the global market relies on.

Meanwhile, I think the solar-powered lamp and the Antarctic clothing both represent a different challenge of the 21st century: climate change.

The Antarctic clothing is needed by the scientists who are taking the climate measurements that may be driving the political and economic landscape by the end of the century.

But perhaps the solar-powered lamp and charger shows a route forward with technology that can bring us electricity from more sustainable, less polluting sources.

As a comment on the blog pointed out, the solar lamp also highlights how our entire modern infrastructure is built around electrical power.

From manufacturing plants, to computer design, to mobile communication, to a simple light for reading; without electricity there is no modern world. For that reason, from the contenders I would pick the solar-powered lamp as the 100th object.

But I also know that ‘global trade’ has been one of the key themes of A History of the World in 100 Objects, so I have a feeling that the final object might be the mobile phone. As David said on the blog on Saturday:

Now fishermen in Kerala, India, can use mobiles to check out where the best prices might be paid for their catch; farmers in Tanzania can sign-up to a text-messaging service that’ll keep them updated on the weather forecast, and small businesses across Africa can transfer their money through the air.

The mobile phone has also been the most popular choice by you in the suggestions for your 100th object, so maybe there is a nice synchronicity going on.

The announcement is around 7:45am and I’ll be there to see what Neil MacGregor reveals as the 100th object in our series. I’ll let you know as soon as that sheet comes off the display box.

What do you think? Add a comment



  • Comment number 1.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 2.

    Greetings from Nairobi where I have been meeting families whose lives are being changed by this wonderful piece of technology.

    For the world's poorest people, solar lights are transformational: if they have any light at all once the sun goes down, it is likely to be a lamp burning kerosene: a solution which is inefficient, high in CO2, dangerous, poisonous and, probably most destructive of all, very expensive. Very poor families typically spend up to 20% of discretionary expenditure on kerosene. A solar light frees them from all of these consequences, often breaking their cycle of poverty as they invest the money they save on income generation.

    So three cheers to the judges for voting for this exciting object which is going to have a huge impact on the world over the next century.

    Steve Andrews
    CEO, SolarAid

  • Comment number 3.

    This appears to be a highly political decision. The cost of one of these lamps, if they will have any useful life (rechargable batteries in particular), will be far more than the equivalent cost of kerosine or other potential fuels.
    What about the enabling technologies for this device, i.e high power LED, high efficiency batteries or solar cells at prices that make this almost viable?
    What about some of the new emerging technologies, like thin film solar cells or bismuth ferrite which could make devices like this with better efficiency at a more viable cost?
    High power LEDs in themselves have the potential to change far more lives than this device, by replacing older more inefficient lighting technologies.
    I have focussed just on the main technologies which make up this device, but there are far more other devices and technologies with the potential to change the whole world. E.g. self driving cars. If the safety critical and liability issues are sorted, I doubt I'll be driving my car in 20 years...

  • Comment number 4.

    There are significant health concerns associated with exposure to bright light at night, especially the bluish-white (high colour temperature) light that most leds emit.
    For example The World Health Organisation WHO lists light at night as a significant cancer risk (not an exaggerated feed a rat with a barrelful of stuff cancer risk, a real risk).

    Current opinion is that a orangey light (low colour temperature under 2000K) would be safer.

    It is perfectly feasible technically, and doesn't add to the cost. Please take steps to do this properly.


  • Comment number 5.

    I had originally thought that object 100 should perhaps be a microchip, but on reflection your choice of a solar-powered lamp is supremely elegant. How wonderful not to have chosen a mobile phone. Fitting end to a great series of objects.



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