Despite the rain, some failed attempts to blow a middle Byzantine horn and a genuine mummified ear, the Constantinople project groups managed to have a successful handling session at the British Museum. The aim of the trip was to further educate us on the physical objects within the Byzantine Empire and their cultural impact. While this was also achieved, when informed that the ear attached to one of the earrings we were passing around was in fact real none of us passed out, unlike some past tour groups, so I would say we distinguished ourselves most of all as the memorable Team Constantinople.
Reading panegyric odes to ancient artefacts is one thing. Being handed a centuries old intricately carved ivory horn that weighs as much as a toddler with a chuckle and ‘watch out you don’t drop this – unless you have £1.75 million spare’ is quite another. The appreciation to detail on each and every gold, silver or ivory treasure we were privileged enough to handle was genuinely unbelievable. If we had just read Byzantine accounts of the hundreds of almost imperceptibly tiny metal strands woven together to create a single earring, it would’ve been easy to dismiss this as exaggeration.
To actually be taken to a handling session where we not only saw the artefacts but could hold and nervously strain not to drop them was a fantastic experience. Especially interesting was the effect that lighting had on the ivory triptychs, something you have to see to believe. To get a glimpse behind the scenes at the British Museum was also brilliant as the wonderfully charismatic Chris Entwhistle shared his encyclopaedic knowledge of all things Byzantine and probably inspired some job applications too – hearing tales of armed artefact escorts and guards with Uzis certainly peaked our interests and I’m sure a few of us had to take a second to re-evaluate how prepared we would be for the Indiana Jones like excitement of Museum Curatorship. Ultimately, Team Constantinople had a great day out led by the indomitable Ruth Macrides, who has been a wonderful teacher despite 9am classes and a few yawning students.
By Jessica Walsh