British Museum unveils ground-breaking Arctic exhibition

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The British Museum will focus on the history of the Arctic and its indigenous peoples in a major exhibition opening this May in London.

Entitled Arctic: culture and climate it will consider not only 30,000 years of human habitation and the cultures that accompanied it, but also the effects climate change is having today.

Hartwig Fischer, director of the British Museum, said: “The show directly addresses the essential question of how humans can live with the impacts of extreme weather. The future and past come together in the present, united by the shared experiences of Arctic peoples.”

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Adapting to a changing world

Using insights from contemporary Arctic communities, the show will look at how peoples have adapted to previous climate fluctuations and will address the global issue of changing climate.

The exhibition includes objects from the British Museum’s own Arctic collection as well as from overseas institutions and will reveal gripping insights into both artistic expression and ecological knowledge.

Highlights include 28,000-year-old archaeological finds excavated from the thawing ground in Siberia, tools and clothing adapted for survival, and artworks that reflect the symbiotic relationship between Arctic people and the natural world.

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The Arctic and outside influences

Exhibits will also offer insights into the ways in which Arctic peoples have faced dramatic social, economic and political changes as a result of European and Russian exploration to the region, quests for the Northwest Passage, and the global fur trade.

One fascinating object from this period is an Inughuit (Greenlandic) sled made from narwhal and caribou bone and pieces of driftwood. It was traded to Sir John Ross on his 1818 expedition, marking the first encounter between Inughuit and Europeans.

Arctic peoples’ responses to the establishment of colonial governments and state-sponsored religions in the Arctic are also included, including a bronze carved Evenki spirit mask that was made from a 17th-century Russian Orthodox icon.

Summing up the appeal of the show, Amber Lincoln, curator, Americas Section, British Museum, said: “It weaves together compelling stories, objects and landscapes of the Circumpolar North, at a time when the Arctic is changing before our very eyes.”

 

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