Eerie history

I’m not a museum curator, but it seems like some artifacts would be more awe-inspiring than others. I’ve personally noticed on museum visits that some artifacts seem to carry some mystical quality — a hair-standing-up-on-the-back-of-the-neck quality.

In pop culture, I got this sense from Raiders of the Lost Ark, when I was a kid. The powerful mystery that the story attached to things like the Ark of the Covenant was a feeling that I never got from going to church or reading the Bible.

I got this kind of feeling the other day during a meeting at the Kentucky Horse Park which included a very-preliminary tour of “A Gift from the Desert — The Art, History, and Culture of the Arabian Horse,” the jaw-dropping exhibit now under construction, that is scheduled to open in May 2010, to coincide with the World Equestrian Games, here in Lexington.

The feeling came from hearing some of the lore surrounding The Standard of Ur, which is over 4,000 years old and valued at $50 million — though it would more accurately be described as priceless. In particular: The Standard features what are considered to be some of — if not the — oldest existing illustrations of horse driving. That is to say: Horses pulling things designed by humans. Also, let’s not fail to note: It’s from Iraq.

There’s something that is just eerie to me about such an ancient thing, and its juxtaposition against this modern world, and our struggles and complications.

I’ve heard that the Standard, which is housed at London’s British Museum, was widely assumed to be unlendable, because of its astronomical value. But the substantial cachet of our own Kentucky Horse Park may have proven otherwise. Because of the particular efforts of the staff of KHP’s International Museum of the Horse, the Royal Standard of Ur will reside on Kentucky soil for the exhibit. No doubt secured beyond belief.

And there’s something just amazingly cool about that. It gives me tingles.

Check out this interactive, zoomable image from the Encyclopedia Britannica.

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