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Around the World in 80 Objects

To celebrate the opening of our new World Gallery we're using our Twitter to take you "Around the World in 80 objects". 

Every day on our Twitter for 80 days we'll be posting a new object that you can see in our World Gallery as we navigate a route around the world.

We'll take you over mountains, deserts, and oceans, as we plot a course that shows the global span of our Anthropology collection.

Having started right here in England, so far we've moved south through Europe and will soon be crossing to Africa. From there we'll sweep across Asia, go island-hopping through Oceania, and traverse the Americas, before swinging back around to Lewisham via the Arctic.

So join us as we follow in the footsteps of Phileas Fogg and celebrate human creativity, imagination, and adaptability around the world.

For now, enjoy our recap of our journey over the past six days.

Day One - Great Exhibition Fan

Our journey began here in London, with this fan made in 1851 to celebrate the opening of the Great Exhibition at the Crystal Palace in Hyde Park. The Great Exhibition was the first of a series of world fairs popular in the 19th century that inspired great minds including Charles Darwin and Charles Dickens.

Day Two - Napoleon's Pipe

A short hop over the English Chanel brought us to France to inspect a beautifully ornate pipe made of porcelain, silver, and amber that is said to have been smoked by Napoleon Bonaparte himself.

Day Three - Tree of Jesse

Crossing into the Alps of Switzerland, we shared this stunning carved ivory plaque depicting the Tree of Jesse.

Day Four - Snuff Box

Taking inspiration from the Grand Tour's of the past we moved down through Italy, inspecting this 19th century snuff box displaying some of Italy's most famous sights.

Day Five - Presepe

Presepi are a regular sight in Southern Italy at Christmastime. Presepi depict nativity scenes in miniature and often include humourous and ribald figures too, our Presepe includes some familiar faces.

Day Six - Mamuthones Costume

On to Sardinia, to inspect this Mamuthones costume. The Carnival of the Mamuthones dates back thousands of years and you can find out more in our new World Gallery.

Saint George, Patron Saint of Ethiopia

We're sure that many of you are familiar with the story of Saint George. As the Patron Saint of England, his legend is one well known across the country.

Even if you aren't familiar with George himself you'll have seen the cross of Saint George everywhere - from flags on government buildings to football strips.

Saint George isn't just the Patron Saint of England though. George's patronage extends to amongst others, Aragon and Catalonia, Georgia (unsurprisingly), Moldova, Palestine, and Ethiopia. In our collections from Ethiopia in particular, Saint George features prominently. So just why has the East African nation taken the Saint to their hearts?

Ethiopia, along with its neighbour Eritrea, is something of an exception in the Horn of Africa, in that it is a nation in which the majority of the population practices Christianity. Christianity in Ethiopia takes the form of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church which traces its roots all the way back to the Apostles. Made the official church of the Kingdom of Axum in the 4th century AD, making it one of the earliest nations to adopt Christianity, it has remained the dominant religion in Ethiopia ever since. In fact, the Kings of Ethiopia claimed descent from the biblical figures of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.  

  • Saint George 001, Depictions of Saint George slaying dragons and beasts from horseback are common throughout Christianity, the decision to depict the saint with a darker skin tone, however, is not.
    Depictions of Saint George slaying dragons and beasts from horseback are common throughout Christianity, the decision to depict the saint with a darker skin tone, however, is not.

It is unclear quite how the story of Saint George first came to Ethiopia. Saint George is an important figure in the Middle East particularly in Palestine and Lebanon - it is said he was born in either the Levant or Cappadocia - and may have been introduced to Ethiopia by contact with other Oriental Orthodox churches such as the Coptic Church of Egypt. 

  • 465px-Bete_Giyorgis_03, The Biete Giyorgis is dedicated to Saint George and is considered the greatest example of the rock-hewn churches at Lalibela.
    The Biete Giyorgis is dedicated to Saint George and is considered the greatest example of the rock-hewn churches at Lalibela.

One thing that's very clear though is how important George is in the East African state. In the town of Lalibela, an important pilgrimage site for Ethiopian Christians, eleven churches were hewn from rock between the 7th century AD and the 13th century AD. This monumental task means that the churches are found in subterranean trenches with the earth around them excavated to create the form of magnificent church structures. The best preserved and best-executed church in Lalibela is the Biete Giyorgis, the Church of Saint George. Allegedly, this church was sculpted under the orders of Gebre Mesqel Lalibela - after whom the town is named - in the 13th century AD after Saint George visited him in a vision instructing him to do so. 

Addis Ababa's cathedral is dedicated to Saint George, as is the city's leading football team. There's even a beer named after Saint George.

Saint George is a popular figure in Ethiopian iconography often appearing on horseback driving his lance or spear into the dragon he so famously slew. Just as George's role as a warrior saint made him a popular figure amongst knights and crusaders of Europe, his association with war and battle is prominent when examining our collection of depictions of George in Ethiopian art. The two paintings featured below depict Saint George at the heart of one of Ethiopia's most important historical moments, the Battle of Adwa.

  • Battle of Adwa 01, Depictions of the Battle of Adwa are in ample supply thanks to the significance of the battle in Ethiopian history. In this painting, Saint George provides Ethiopian forces with divine inspiration from the heavens.
    Depictions of the Battle of Adwa are in ample supply thanks to the significance of the battle in Ethiopian history. In this painting, Saint George provides Ethiopian forces with divine inspiration from the heavens.

At the end of the 19th century, Africa had been carved up by the European powers at the Berlin Conference of 1884-85. All of Africa was claimed by European empires with the exception of two states, the Republic of Liberia and the Ethiopian Empire. Despite this, in 1895, the Kingdom of Italy invaded Ethiopia to further its colonial ambitions in the Horn of Africa. Despite initial Italian success, Ethiopian forces would rout their opponents at the Battle of Adwa in 1896, ending their imperial ambitions in Ethiopia. According to the historian Raymond Jones, Adwa stands out as one of the significant events of the 19th century as "In an age of relentless European expansion, Ethiopia alone had successfully defended its independence."

  • Battle of Adwa 02, As above, this painting of the Battle of Adwa portrays Saint George, Emperor Menelik II, and Empress Taytu, leading Ethiopian troops into battle.
    As above, this painting of the Battle of Adwa portrays Saint George, Emperor Menelik II, and Empress Taytu, leading Ethiopian troops into battle.

In both paintings, we see the amassed forces of Ethiopia and Italy facing off against each other across a battlefield. The Ethiopian forces are also led by the same three figures in both paintings - Emperor Menelik II, Emperess Taytu, and Saint George. Saint George soars above both scenes surrounded by a halo of red, green, and gold, the colours of the Ethiopian flag, granting divine inspiration to the forces of Ethiopia. In one case he even hurls his spears into the massed ranks of the Italian army. 

The Battle of Adwa is commemorated to this day in Ethiopia as a national holiday, with public celebrations held in towns and cities across Ethiopia every year. Each year they celebrate the leadership of Menelik II, Tatyu, and of course Saint George.

The Elephant and the Rat

While looking through our collections recently we noticed that in most of the depictions of Ganesha we found he is often accompanied by a rat. Eager to get to the bottom of the mystery for World Rat Day we decided to delve deep and uncover the meaning behind this unlikely pairing.

Ganesha is one of the most easily recognisable deities of the Hindu pantheon and he will be familiar to many non-Hindus. His distinctive elephant's head marks him out as one of the most memorable figures in Hinduism, and as a patron of the arts and scientists and the remover of objects he plays an important role for many communities throughout South Asia. You may have also noticed that often wherever Ganesha goes he is accompanied by a rat. A small rat may cower beneath his feet, or a giant rat may serve at his vehicle or 'Vahana'. How has a figure as revered as Ganesha come to be associated with the common rat then?

  • 1990.23, This 19th century statue of Ganesha shows his faithful rat companion prostrate at his feet
    This 19th century statue of Ganesha shows his faithful rat companion prostrate at his feet

The rat first appears as Ganesha's mount in Hindu mythology in the Matsya Purana, a Sanskrit text that is believed to have been begun in the 1st millennium BCE. Since then it has appeared in a number of important texts and myths surrounding Ganesha including the Brahmananda Purana and Ganesha Purana

According to the Ganesha Purana the mythical origin of Ganesha's rat is this:

There was a celestial musician-god by the name Krauncha. One day, in the court of Lord Indra, Krauncha accidentally stepped on the foot of Muni Vamadeva, who (as all Munis), got enraged and cursed Krauncha to become a mouse. However, Krauncha became a huge mountain-sized mouse and ended up damaging everything in its path. Once, he ended up stepping on the ashram of Maharshi Parashar, with whom Lord Ganesha was staying, and destroying it. Lord Ganesha, inorder to teach Krauncha a lesson, unleashed his pasha (noose) on Krauncha which ended up looping around the mouse and bringing him to Lord Ganesha's feet. Ganesha then said something like, "Krauncha...you have caused a lot of trouble and you deserve a severe punishment. But since you ask for my forgiveness, I will pardon you and use you as my vehicle". However, when Ganesha mounted on Krauncha, he couldnt bear the weight of Lord Ganesha. Krauncha pleaded for Ganesha to become light-weight so that he could support him. Lord Ganesha obliged and since then, has been using the mouse as his vehicle.

However, the argument continues on quite what the rat is meant to symbolise, and many aren't even sure it's a rat - it could be a mouse. Some believe that the rat helps Ganesha in his role as the remover of obstacles. Rodents can travel in spaces that others could never reach and this allows Ganesha to do his work in the unseen places of the world. The writer, Yuvraj Krishan has argued it is the opposite that is true - that the partnership of Ganesha and the rodent is not one of harmony but rather of domination:

Lord Ganesha is known as the Conqueror of Obstacles (Vighnaharta). In ancient times, when agriculture was the primary mode of sustenance, rodents were one of the biggest obstacles to prosperity. Rodents would destroy standing crops, eat up stored grains and thereby result in severe losses for the common man. Lord Ganesha, in having a mouse/rat as his vehicle, is symbolically shown to have conquered this pest, thus staying true to his name of Vighnaharta.

Whatever the truth is it seems these two aren't going to be separated any time soon. Next time you see a depiction of Ganesha why not see if you can find his rat companion nearby?

  • 513.003, A 19th century ebony figure depicting Ganesha carried upon a throne by his vahana
    A 19th century ebony figure depicting Ganesha carried upon a throne by his vahana

What do you own that means the most to you?

We need your help

The Horniman is looking for stories about the objects that mean the most to you.

It could be a photograph, a gift you’ve been given, a family heirloom or something that always makes you smile. Whatever you choose, tell us the story of how you came to own it, why it is important to you and what you think when you see it.

Our World Gallery will be full of objects that mean a great deal to different people, whether they are vital tools, clothes, decorations or toys.

We want your help in creating an online museum of objects to complement the World Gallery, so that we can see the objects that are most important to you, our audience and visitors.

So, how do you send your entry?

Send us a picture of your object and the story behind it, or record your own video like the ones above, to web@horniman.ac.uk. Alternatively, you can message us on Facebook or Twitter.

We will be selecting some of your stories and pictures to go into the World Gallery and will include others on our website, as part of this virtual museum.

World Poetry Day: The Wilsons and Wuhan

World Poetry Day is celebrated every year on 21 March to recognise the importance of poetry to human culture across the world.

At the Horniman we have been searching our collections for objects that will help us join the worldwide celebration and in this hunt have uncovered an object that shows how poetry and art unites us all across borders.

Horniman Object No. 2013.366 may not look like much at first glance. Wooden boards bound into a book by a leather spine does not make for the most eye-catching display, but open up the pages of this tome and you will be stunned. Each double-page spread features a unique poem written in both Chinese and English by an individual whose portrait has been lovingly painted as an accompaniment.

These poems were written to commemorate Reverend Robert Wilson, or ‘Mr Wei’, who had lived in what is now the city of Wuhan in Central China. Robert had passed away, leaving behind his wife and daughters. With the family set to return to England, it seems that friends and congregants of Mr Wilson had collaborated to produce this book to thank his widow for the impact he had on their lives, and to express the sadness that she too was leaving theirs.

We have highlighted three of these poems in particular that highlight how a group of ordinary people used the universal language of poetry to explore the sorrow and grief that they all shared.


Ah! How sad, the pastor is gone to heaven;

Having gone to the heavenly hall he has left

                The world forever.

Alas! The mother teacher has to return solitary,

When I think of the miles of ocean and

                Sea, my heart grows very sorrowful

                And sad.


-          Liu Chang Sin


  • 2013.366_01, Liu Chang Sin's poem and portrait
    Liu Chang Sin's poem and portrait


Oh how joyous! The mutual acquaintance between

The pastor Wei and myself was complete.

Oh how sorrowful! The teacher is gone to heaven,

And the teacher’s wife and daughters will

Now be separated from us.


Still my joy and my sorrow do not simply

Consist in this.


More sorrowful is it, that the harvest is great

And the Labourers few.

More joyous still is it, that there is a day when

The Teacher, with his wife and daughters

Together with ourselves shall meet each

Other in heaven.


-          Shun Tsi Sin, the local evangelist


  • 2013.366_02, The poem and portrait of Shun Tsi Sin
    The poem and portrait of Shun Tsi Sin


I am having my likeness taken,

And in presenting it to her who is about to return,

My object is to a small degree to soothe the sadness

                Of the voyage,

And not because I regard it of any value.

Though visibly there is a temporary separation,

After death we shall be again near each other.

Say not that the distance will be great there;

In heaven we shall all be neighbours.


-          Chii Hien Ohme


  • 2013.366_03, The poem and portrait of Chii Hien Ohme
    The poem and portrait of Chii Hien Ohme

How an idea becomes a gallery

Have you ever wondered how we put together a brand new gallery? Well, Sarah Watson from Collections Management tells us how.

This year the Horniman has been preparing for the opening of a new gallery which will show around 4,300 objects from our anthropology collection. The new World Gallery will redisplay a number of objects previously found in the Centenary and African Worlds Galleries, and importantly will include many more objects - some of which have never before been on display.

Once the World Gallery is open you will see inspiring and exciting objects from across the world highlighting different themes and cultures. Sounds enticing, doesn’t it? Before you rush to the Museum though there is still a lot of challenging work taking place behind the scenes in order for the doors of the World Gallery to open for the first time. 

Before any of the Museum's objects can be installed there needs to be decisions made about how they will be arranged and how these displays can be made possible physically. Considering how to arrange objects in a new exhibition is no easy task and one which our curators have been focused on for the last six or so years.

Some of these decisions are made at layouts when objects are set out in a mock-up of how a showcase might eventually look. Conservators, curators, collections management, documentation, and workshop staff all attend to discuss the practicalities and challenges of displaying particular objects. 

Prior to a layout, all of the required objects must be retrieved from the Horniman’s very own TARDIS - the Study Collections Centre (SCC) - our offsite storage facility which houses the majority of the museum’s collection.

Retrieving objects is carried out by the Collections Management Team who are responsible for the care, storage, and documentation of the collection. As part of this team, I work with my colleagues prior to each layout to identify the location of selected objects, collect them, and arrange them according to a design planned by curators. 

This process of retrieving objects from the SCC can be quite time-consuming, usually taking between one and four days depending on the number of objects needed and the complexity of moving them. One of the largest layouts we have done so far featured over two hundred objects. One of the challenges we encounter when retrieving objects is if they are heavy or large, or both, making them more difficult to move. This adds to the amount of preparation and time needed, and will often require the assistance of additional colleagues and lifting equipment to move them safely. 

So, what happens after the layout has finished I hear you ask. After the curators, conservators, and workshop staff have met and agreed on which objects can be displayed and how collections management carefully pack all the selected objects so they are ready to transport from the SCC to the Museum. Objects that haven’t been chosen will be packed away and go back into storage. As with retrieving objects, packing them also takes time, often as many as four days as we need to ensure that objects are packed as to not sustain damage while in transit. 

To get to the point where we start retrieving objects to the moment they are packed and ready to transport can take the best part of two weeks, particularly if there are a lot of objects involved. Once the layouts are complete we will begin the process of installing objects in the refurbished exhibition space for the World Gallery to open in 2018. In the meantime, we are getting very good at packing, and are delighted to see so many fascinating and unusual objects going on display from the collection.

Horniman Youth are Charmed and Hypnotised

Artist Rachel Emily Taylor has been working at the Horniman as part of an Arts Council Award project, Charmed & Hypnotised. The project explores the Horniman's collection of British charms and amulets.

Working alongside hypnotherapist Lorna Cordwell, with the support of Professor Giuliana Mazzoni, Rachel collaborated with members of the local community to explore the benefits of the charms through touch and hypnotic inductions. The participants were not told what the charm was before they worked with it and their experience was audio recorded.

The project allowed for the participants to think outside the standard set of meanings presented in relation to the objects. For example, rather than reading facts about the origin of the item, they could focus on the temperature of the object: was it hot or cold?

  • Image-from-Charmed-and-Hypnotised, Charmed and Hypnotised, Rachel Emily Taylor
    Charmed and Hypnotised, Rachel Emily Taylor

The audio recordings can be considered as an alternative “caption” to accompany the Horniman objects.

Listen to the hypnotic recordings.

The research was disseminated through art workshops with the Horniman Youth Panel.

The group listened to the recordings and, without seeing what the object was, drew what they thought it might be. Like a game of Telephone.

  • Image-from-Charmed-and-Hypnotised, Charmed and Hypnotised, Rachel Emily Taylor
    Charmed and Hypnotised, Rachel Emily Taylor

The artwork made during the workshop with the Horniman Youth Panel will be included in a publication and an exhibition on the project, which will take place at V22 Louise House in August 2017.

Funded through the National Lottery by Arts Council England.

A source of arty inspiration

Our Engage Volunteer, Sam, tells us about how our collections have inspired her artwork. 

Even before becoming an Engage Volunteer I was inspired by the fantastic collections at the Horniman. 

The artefacts in what was the African Worlds Gallery have provided an especially rich source of material for my sketches and sculpture I’ve produced over the years.

Since becoming an Engage volunteer I can get up really close and personal with the actual objects themselves and I love to share my enthusiasm with the public too!

  • Project Morrinho at the Horniman , A colourful sketch of the Horniman Clocktower
    A colourful sketch of the Horniman Clocktower

My work mainly focuses on memory. Do objects have a memory? Do they provoke a memory of your own? Or do they serve as a collective memory for a group of people?

I often combine my own memories of travelling and the experiences I’ve had into my work and the materials I use.

  • Portal, Portal

I have always had a fascination with masks. I have collected and sketched them on my travels around Mexico and Africa. Beautiful, ugly, mysterious and powerful, they hook my imagination and keep drawing me back.

  • Sky Earth Kanaga Mask, Sky Earth Kanaga Mask
    Sky Earth Kanaga Mask

In River Memory Mask the wood itself forms the contours of the map of a face, with the river flowing through it linking the future to the past. The mirrored eye and stones with holes also ward off evil as seen in masks and amulets at the Horniman, like this African Nkisi, this Kurdish charm or this English protective charm. I’m spoilt for choice of inspiration!

  • River Memory Mask  , River Memory Mask
    River Memory Mask

The Anthropology blogs are a great way to find out about how the Anthropology Collections are being re-displayed. I can’t wait until the work is finished and the new World Gallery opens next year!

Have any of the objects at the Horniman sparked memories for you? 

Share your thoughts with us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram using #horniman. 

A shrine to pencils

Today is National Pencil Day.

This wonderful day is observed each year on 30 March because, apparently, Hymen Lipman registered the first patent for attaching a rubber – or eraser to our American friends – to the end of a pencil on this day in 1858.

The holiday is a US tradition, but we thought we would use it this year as an excuse to tell you about the pencils we found while decanting our Galleries.

Last year, our African Worlds Gallery closed as we started the exciting process of turning the space into our new World Gallery. To do this, we needed to decant the Gallery and move all the objects back into storage.

  • A shrine to pencils, A shrine during the decant of the African Worlds Gallery.
    A shrine during the decant of the African Worlds Gallery.

As we took down our shrines, we realised that there were a few more objects inside them than had been there originally.

It seems that visitors had been popping pencils and other items through the small holes at the bottom of the cases.

  • A shrine to pencils, A small, pencil-sized hole in the case.
    A small, pencil-sized hole in the case.

While we decanted the cases, our team took an inventory of the number of extra items that had been ‘added’ to the shrine. We present this here.

Haitian Vodou shrine:

1 pencil

Brazilian Candomble shrine:

14 pencils

1 hairclip

1 crayon wrapper

And the winner by a mile…

Benin Mammi Wata shrine:

58 pencils

1 biro

1 twig

1 plastic lolly stick

As you can see, that is a total number of 73 pencils added to our shrines. 

Our team enjoyed these 'offerings' and made sure they were recycled and put to good use. 

  • A shrine to pencils, So many pencils.
    So many pencils.

A trip to a Nigerian street market

Anthropology curator, Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp, tells us about her research trip to Eko Market in Lagos, Nigeria.

‘In November 2016 I travelled to Lagos, Nigeria, to work with a talented photographer, Jide Odukoya.

Part of the Horniman’s new World Gallery will focus on Lagos – Nigeria’s largest city. We wanted to capture the vibrancy and energy of the markets on Lagos Island through photography and film.

  • A Nigerian street market, Jide Odukoya in Eko Market − © Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp
    Jide Odukoya in Eko Market

Lagos is without a doubt the most incredible city I have ever been to. It’s noisy, sticky, busy and frantic, but also exciting and beautiful. There is never a dull moment.

Clambering off the back of a motorbike on my first day, I looked up to see four enormous white concrete horses galloping over the podiums lining the entrance to Tafawa Belawa Square. The monument is named after the first Prime Minister of independent Nigeria who took over from British rule in 1960.

  • A Nigerian street market, Tafawa Belawa Square − © Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp
    Tafawa Belawa Square

The square is also a major transport junction. From here you can pick-up another bike that takes you into the financial heart of the city.

Steel and glass high-rise office blocks owned by global banks tower over a vast network of street markets.

You soon realise that what may first appear as a chaotic throng of shoppers, buses, and market stalls is meticulously organised. Whether you need shoes, a new tablet, a watch, a blender, nappies, pineapples or a new pair of pants, there will be an area designated for it.

  • A Nigerian street market, Eko Market - the place to find handbags, clothes, belts and shoes. − © Jide Odukoya
    Eko Market - the place to find handbags, clothes, belts and shoes.

My favourite street was jam-packed with toy stalls and school stationery; squeaky children’s shoes, little neon plastic cars, and row-upon-row of Frozen backpacks.

We will try to recreate a stall from this street in the new gallery.

  • A Nigerian street market, Toy Street − © Johanna Zetterstrom-Sharp
    Toy Street

As I followed it up a hill, the street turned into a Lagosian winter wonderland – piles of bright tinsel and great bundles of colourful flashing lights, Christmas trees with fibre-optic pine-needles and mechanical Santas that sang Jingle Bells.

Jide chose to photograph and film Eko market – the place to buy handbags, sunglasses and clothes. His images capture the Lagos hustle.

  • A Nigerian street market, A trader selling denim dungarees− © Jide Odukoya
    A trader selling denim dungarees

Whether you want replica Prada sunglasses, leather belts, denim dungarees, or a crisp white shirt, you can find it here.

His photographs show a meticulously dressed shopper cast a discerning eye over bright patterned dresses and two women sharing a joke after a deal has been struck.

They are vivid and playful – both terms which we hope will be reflected in our exciting new gallery.

  • A Nigerian street market, Two women share a joke− © Jide Odukoya
    Two women share a joke

  • A Nigerian street market, Eko market is the place to buy replica designer sunglasses− © Jide Odukoya
    Eko market is the place to buy replica designer sunglasses

This trip was generously funded by an ICOM WIRP travel grant.’

Find out more about the development of the World Gallery

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