The World’s Oldest Museum

The world is a very old place.  Human civilizations have been around for a long time, too — we just tend not to think about it unless something reminds us.

One reminder is the story of the world’s oldest museum, which was established in the city of Ur 2,500 years ago.  It was discovered in 1925, when an archaeologist was excavating a Babylonian palace and found some neatly arranged objects from many different times and places.  The archaeologist thought he might have discovered a museum, and he confirmed that conclusion when he uncovered the world’s oldest known label for a museum exhibit, in the form of a clay cylinder, pictured at right, with text written in three different languages.  The museum was established by a Princess named Ennigaldi, at a time when the Babylonians — whose civilization stretched back thousands of years — were obsessed with their past.

At first blush, it seems strange to think that people living in 500 B.C. would be interested in studying history — but there is no reason why they wouldn’t find the story of humanity as compelling as modern people do.  The story of the Babylonian museum reminds me of a passage I read in The Story of Civilization series of books by Will and Ariel Durant.  In the book about ancient Egypt, they quoted a passage from a world-weary Egyptian writer who lamented that the world was old and that everything worth writing had been written already.  His lament was written about 2500 years before Shakespeare.