A million years of human ingenuity: Objects of the world

BBC Radio 4 took a hundred man made objects (from across the ages), that were a part of the British Museum collection and translated these into one hundred radio programmes, each tackling one object and lasting fifteen minutes each. These were broadcast in a chronological order in three tranches across 2010. Take a look at some of these objects and (probably) feel good that you are human.

Making Us Human (2,000,000 – 9000 BC)

Olduvai hand axe, one of the earliest human tools.

After the Ice Age: Food and Sex (9000 – 3500 BC) 

The Maize God, a Mayan sculpture which shows how religion is linked to farming and fertility.

The First Cities and States (4000 – 2000 BC)

Early writing tablet inscribed with cuneiform.

The Beginning of Science & Literature (1500 – 700 BC)

Minoan Bull Leaper: From the island of Crete and used in a shrine or a cave sanctuary.

Old World, New Powers (1100 – 300 BC)

The gold Croesus coin: Regarded as the first form of modern currency, from Turkey.

The Zhou ritual bowl: Contains an inscription which provides historians with an account of a crucial transformation period in China.

The World in the Age of Confucius (500 – 300 BC)

Olmec stone mask: Olmecs are the earliest Central American civilisation and they laid the foundations for subsequent societies.

Empire Builders (300BC – 1 AD)

The Rosetta Stone: Advancing the understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphic script.

The bust of Augustus: Comes from a statue put up on the southern frontier of the Roman Empire in Egypt.

Ancient Pleasures, Modern Spice (1 AD – 600 AD)

Hoxne pepper pot: Part of the Hoxne hoard, the largest Roman treasure ever discovered. A pepper pot in the form of a Roman noble woman.

The Rise of World Faiths (200 – 600 AD)

Arabian bronze hand: This bronze hand was given as an offering to the god Talab Riyam in a temple in pre-Islamic Yemen.

The Silk Road and Beyond (400 – 700 AD) 

Sutton Hoo helmet: An Anglo-Saxon treasure found in the Sutton Hoo burial site in Suffolk.

Inside the Palace: Secrets at Court (700 – 950 AD)

Tang tomb figures: Twelve figures were buried in the tomb of the Tang general Liu Tingxun. From China.

Pilgrims, Raiders and Traders (900 – 1300 AD) 

Kilwa pot sherds: These broken pieces of pots were found on the shores of Kilwa Kiswani, an island off Tanzania, which was once home to a major medieval African port.

Status Symbols (1200 – 1400 AD)

The Lewis Chessmen: Walrus ivory, whale teeth, Norway. Found on the Hebrides. Were used by the elite.

Meeting the Gods (1200 – 1400 AD)

Shiva and Parvati sculpture: Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati are depicted in this temple sculpture from Orissa, India.

The Threshold of the Modern World (1375 – 1550 AD)

Tughra of Suleiman the Magnificent: A decorative monogram representing the sultan of the Ottoman Empire, speaks of wealth and authority.

Durer’s print – ‘Rhinoceros’: Woodcut, Germany. A story of exploration and technology.

The First Global Economy (1450 – 1600 AD) 

Kakiemon Elephants: Porcelain, Japan. These were shipped to Europe by the multinational Dutch East India Company, the only business allowed to trade with Japan.

Tolerance and Intolerance (1550 – 1700 AD)

Mexican codex map: This map was made fifty years after the Spanish conquered the Aztecs. It is a property plan illustrating the foundation of two towns in the region of Tlaxcala, Mexico. Painted bark.

Exploration, Exploitation and Enlightenment (1680 – 1820 AD) 


(L ) The Akan drum: Wood and animal skin, West Africa. Used by plantation slaves and (R) a feather helmet, Hawaii.


(L) Buckskin map: Drawn by a native American and (R) the Jade bi is from the Qing dynasty’s own enlightenment. China.

Mass Production, Mass Persuasion (1780 – 1914 AD)

Hokusai’s The Great Wave: Woodblock print, Japan. This was painted at a time when Japan was worried about foreign incursions after its centuries of seclusion.


(L) Early Victorian tea set: Stoneware and silver, Britain. and (R) the Sudanese Slit Drum: Coralwood, Central Africa. This was used by militants in Khartoum.

The World of Our Making (1914 – 2010 AD) 

The Throne of Weapons: This chair was made of decommissioned guns encapsulates the post-war history of Mozambique.


(L) David Hockney’s ‘In The Dull Village’: Etching, Britain. This was produced just as homosexuality was finding public prominence and acceptance and (R) Russian revolutionary plate. Porcelain. Give us this day our daily bread.


(L) The credit card. United Arab Emirates. Credit to the masses and (R) the solar-powered lamp and charger. China.

View all the one hundred objects here. 

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16 Comments on "A million years of human ingenuity: Objects of the world"

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kao lyuan

Musuem pieces, preiceless.


Knock knock…who is there? Sutton…. Sutton Hoo? :-) Great post btw.

Deborah C

trip in time, and good one at that…


I kinda dig historical objects and this is a fine colleciton..thanks for posting man

Hubert N

Interesting Material Culture.


That is quite a trip in time my man!

Naomi C

wow! we ARE smart. lolol

Denise F

delightful record! I am a sucker for history too.


was the Dutch company the first MNC?? as far as I know it grew by monopolizing trade.

Nerdy Gal

why is the mobile phone missing??……. lol

Brigette U

The British Museum holds a lot of priceless treasures I see.
Thank you.


wow..this is quite something….


I have always loved the great wave (hokusai). so much power……..

sujoy r

is the Tughra of Suleiman the first graphic identity design??


this is the first time i get to see the rosetta stone clearly. ty!


I never stop marveling the intelligence (and stupidity) of our species.