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Have you seen the magic wand in the British Museum?

January 10, 2020
Have you seen the magic wand in the British Museum?

With hundreds of thousands of objects on display at the British Museum, it is easy to miss one of the oldest things in the collection. And it comes, not from Egypt, Greece or Rome but from France. This baton made from reindeer antler is decorated with an image of a horse, and is 13,000 years old. It was made at a time when ice dominated Europe and France would have been dominated by glaciers and had a population of reindeer. But what exactly is the baton for?

 

It was discovered in 1863 in a rock shelter at Le Madeleine in the Dordogne by Edouard Lartet, a French palaeontologist and his benefactor Henry Christy. Christy had made his fortune in selling linen and top hats and decided to devote the rest of his life to travel and archaeology. The baton mystified both of them, Christy concluding it would have been used as a “magic wand” to conjure up horses as a source of food. That didn’t explain the hole in the middle though.

 

In 1965 surrealist artist Leon Underwood came up with a new theory. Underwood had long been inspired by stone age and other ancient objects, and it had led him further into study of archaeology. He noticed the similarity of the hole in the baton to spear throwers used by Inuit people in the 1960s. The spear thrower worked by placing a spear in a piece of carved antler which would have straps attached to it. The thrower spins the baton to build up speed, then when released the spear flies forward with greater speed than would have been achieved if thrown by hand. To prove his point Underwood built a copy of the antler baton and used it to throw spears – the idea of making an archaeological reconstruction was fairly novel at the time.

 

Debate still continues about the true use of the baton, but that is what I like about objects in the British Museum, they can change meaning over time, as we find out more about the past. To find more of the treasures of the British Museum join Rob on one of his tours for London Guided Walks.

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1930s novelty soap

January 8, 2020

Today is National Bubble Bath Day. Yes, it’s a thing!

Would you like having a bath only once a week, in your kitchen, using only carbolic soap, in a hip tin bath like this? No? We don’t blame you, but this is what many Victorian families. Brrrrr. Washing body parts separately, such as arms, hands and faces were executed regularly but full-body baths were a different beast all together.

History of Soap

Ancient Babylonians are credited for inventing soap. Evidence for this has bee...


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What is the strange contraption in St Magnus the Martyr church?

January 4, 2020

As you enter the church of St Magnus the Martyr, just to the east of London Bridge, you would be forgiven for missing this strange wooden contraption to the right.  What is it?  Not a mobile pop up food stall.  It’s a very early fire engine.  How appropriate it should be in this church as a reminder of the dangers of fire, particularly in medieval London.

St Magnus was the second church to be destroyed in the Great Fire of London – the Monument being built on the site of the first...


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Leadenhall Market: the Heart of Roman London

January 3, 2020

Leadenhall Market stands in the very centre of Londinium, for underneath its buildings and avenues lie the remains of the forum.

The Romans began their conquest of Britannia in 43AD, and the settlement of London began sometime after. We do not know exactly when, but perhaps the most important find from a great deal of archaeological digging in the capital points to very rapid development. A timber drain found under No 1 Poultry dates to 47AD, indicating that a road was constructed by ...


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When is Twelfth Night?

January 1, 2020

It is said that it is bad luck to leave your Christmas decorations up past Twelfth Night. But when is Twelfth Night?

One of the biggest surprises for those on my Victorian Christmas Walk is that at the beginning of the 19th century Christmas was hardly celebrated. It’s hard to imagine that many businesses did not even consider it a holiday and for most it was simply yet another working day. Instead Twelfth Night was the big event in the calendar associated with parties and drinking....


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Farewell 2019

December 30, 2019

As the sun sets on London for the last time in 2019 it's a time to take stock and give thanks.

2019 has been our busiest year to date and it's been wonderful.

We have grown from one woman with a vision to five qualified London tour guides and one professional photographer with a passion for sharing their love of London. We now offer 52 London Events, yes, you read that right, 52!

Throughout the year we have provided 230 London events (public guided walks, private tours and treasure hunt...


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