A History Of The World In 100 Objects

Episodes

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After The Ice Age20100312
After The Ice Age2010031220200424 (R4)

Another chance to hear the Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, retell the history of human development using 100 selected objects from the Museum. This week he explores the profound changes that humans experienced at the end of the Ice Age. By this period, humanity is reconsidering its place in the world and turning its attention to food, power, worship, and human relationships.

But then, as now, one of the most important parts of human existence was finding enough food to survive. Taking a pestle from Papua New Guinea as an example, Neil asks why our ancestors decided to grow and cook new foods. The answer provides us with a telling insight into the way early humans settled on the land. Becoming farmers and eating food that was harder for other animals to digest made us a formidable force in the food chain. The impact on our environment of this shift to cookery and cultivation is still being felt. Neil is joined by Indian food writer Madhur Jaffrey, campaigner Sir Bob Geldof and archaeologist Professor Martin Jones.

Neil then goes on to investigate a palm-sized stone sculpture that was found near Bethlehem. It clearly shows a couple entwined in the act of love. The contemporary sculptor Marc Quinn responds to the stone as art and the archaeologist Dr Ian Hodder considers the Natufian society that produced it. What was human life and society actually like all those years ago? Possibly a lot more sophisticated than we imagine!

For his third item in the programme Neil selects four miniature clay cows made from Nile mud in Egypt 5,500 years ago, way before the time of the pyramids or the pharaohs. Why did the Egyptians start burying objects like this one with their dead? Neil goes in search life and death on the Nile and discovers how the domestication of cattle made the humble cow transformed human existence.

Neil then switches his focus to the world of the Mayan civilisation and a stone Maize God, discovered on the site of a major Mayan city in present day Honduras. This large statue is wearing a headdress in the shape of a giant corn cob. Maize was not only worshipped at that time but the Maya also believed that all their ancestors were descended from maize. Neil MacGregor reveals why maize, which is notoriously difficult to refine for human consumption, becomes so important to the emerging agriculture of the region. Neil is joined by the anthropologist Professor John Staller and the restaurateur Santiago Calva who explain the complexity of Mayan mythological belief and the ongoing power of maize in Central America today

And for his final item this week Neil moves to Japan and the story of a 7,000 year old clay pot which has managed to remain almost perfectly intact. Pots began in Japan around 17, 000 years ago and by the time this pot was made had achieved a remarkable sophistication. The archaeologists ProfessorTakeshi Doi and Simon Kaner describe the significance of agriculture to the Jomon and the way in which they made their pots and used decorations from the natural world around them. This particular pot is remarkable in that it was lined with gold leaf in perhaps the 18th century and used in that quintessentially Japanese ritual, the tea ceremony. This simple clay object makes a fascinating connection between the Japan of today and the emerging world of people in Japan at the end of the Ice Age

Producers: Anthony Denselow and Paul Kobrak

Neil Macgregor retells humanity's history through the objects it has made

Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, retells humanity's history through objects

After the Ice Age2010031220200424 (R4)

Neil Macgregor retells humanity's history through the objects it has made

Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, retells humanity's history through objects

Making Us Human2010030520200417 (R4)

Another chance to hear the Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, retell the history of human development using 100 selected objects from the Museum - from the first stone axe to the credit card. His history will cover two million years and include items that were made in every part of the globe. In this, an omnibus of the first five objects of the series, Neil begins by recalling the first object that enthralled him a young boy of eight - and Egyptian Mummy, before examining the very the earliest examples of human ingenuity from Africa, America and Europe.

Hornedjitef was a priest who died around 2250 years ago, and he designed a coffin that, he believed, would help him navigate his way to the afterlife. Little did he know that this afterlife would be as a museum exhibit in London. This ornate coffin holds secrets to the understanding of his religion, society and Egypt's connections to the rest of the world. Neil tells the story of Hornedjitef's mummy case, with contributions from egyptologist John Taylor, Egyptian author Ahdaf Soueif and Indian economist and Nobel Prize winner Amartya Sen.

He then goes back goes back two million years to the Rift Valley in Tanzania, where a simple chipped stone marks the emergence of modern humans. One of the characteristics that mark humans out from other animals is their desire for, and dependency on, the things they fashion with their own hands. This obsession has long roots and Neil introduces one of the earliest examples of human ingenuity. Faced with the needs to cut meat from carcasses, early humans in Africa discovered how to shape stones into cutting tools. From that one innovation, a whole history human development springs. Neil tells the story of the Olduvai stone chopping tool, with contributions from Sir David Attenborough and African Nobel Prize winner Dr Wangeri Maathai

He then follows early humans as they slowly begin to move beyond their African homeland taking with them one essential item - a hand axe. In the presence of the most widely used tool humans have created, Neil sees just how vital to our evolution this sharp, ingenious implement was and how it allowed the spread of humans across the globe. And he tells the story of the hand axe with contributions from flint-napper Phil Harding, designer Sir James Dyson and archaeologist Nick Ashton

Next up is one of the earliest works of art. It is a carving of two swimming reindeer and it's not just the likeness that is striking. The creator of this carving was one of the first humans to express their world through art. Its place in the history of art and religion is considered with contributions from the Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams and archaelogist Professor Steven Mithen

Finally, Neil heads west to North America and an object that dates from the earliest settlements there, around 13,000 years ago. It's a deadly hunting weapon, used by the first inhabitants of the Americas. This sharp spearhead lets us understand how humans spread across the globe. By 11,000 BC humans had moved from north east Asia into the uninhabited wilderness of north America; within 2000 years they had populated the whole continent. How did these hunters live? And how does their Asian origin sit with the creation stories of modern day Native Americans? Neil MacGregor tells the story of the Clovis Point, with contributions from Michael Palin and American archaeologist Gary Haynes

And if you'd like to see the objects described in the programme, up-close and from all angles, then go online to bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld.

Producers: Anthony Denselow, Paul Kobrak and Philip Sellars

Neil MacGregor retells humanity's history through the objects it has made

Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, retells humanity's history through objects

Making Us Human2010030520200417 (R4)

Neil MacGregor retells humanity's history through the objects it has made

Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, retells humanity's history through objects

The First Cities And States (4000 - 2000 Bc)2010031920200508 (R4)

Neil Macgregor retells humanity's history through the objects it has made.

Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, retells humanity's history through objects