Discover the culture and climate of the Arctic at a major new British Museum exhibition

The land of the midnight sun takes centre stage in a major new exhibition at London’s British Museum.

By Gail Tolley
Published 6 Oct 2020, 06:06 BST
The Arctic’s staggering transformation is at the heart of a new exhibition at the British Museum.

The Arctic’s staggering transformation is at the heart of a new exhibition at the British Museum.

Photograph by Kiliii Yüyan

The Arctic is changing dramatically. Often imagined as a timeless, frozen landscape, scientists believe the region could in fact be ice-free in 80 years’ time. Temperatures here are increasing at twice the world average and last year was the second-warmest summer since records began in 1910. The impact of this warming is being seen in shrinking ice coverage, thawing permafrost and extensive wildfires.

The Arctic’s staggering transformation is at the heart of a new exhibition at the British Museum. Opening on 22 October, Arctic: Culture and Climate has been curated in partnership with indigenous communities from across the region and is the first show to look at the Arctic from the perspective of its people. As well as exploring how contemporary groups are responding and adapting to climate change, the show will also take visitors through the region’s fascinating anthropological history.

Four million people live in the Arctic — including 40 different ethnic groups — and evidence of human settlement goes back millennia. Far from being an empty wilderness, the Arctic has a rich cultural tradition. Highlights of the British Museum’s exhibition include 28,000-year-old jewellery made from mammoth ivory and sewing needles carved from walrus tusks, which were discovered at an archaeological site in north-east Siberia. While providing a fascinating insight into a prehistoric community, the site was, rather poignantly, only discovered because rising temperatures have melted the permafrost.

Elsewhere in the exhibition, new artworks including an Inuksuk (an iconic Arctic monument of stacked stones) will be on display as well as immersive photography of the captivating landscapes. The imagery serves a dual purpose: to bring the Arctic’s breathtaking beauty to life, while also serving to show us exactly what we stand to lose. 22 October-21 February.

Don’t miss: the Inughuit (Greenlandic) sled made from narwhal, reindeer bone and driftwood on display. It was traded with polar explorer Sir John Ross on his expedition to find the Northwest Passage in 1818. 

Discover the Arctic in 2021

1. Sweden
Here’s a novel way to see the Northern Lights — Off the Map Travel offers ballooning trips into the Arctic night sky. The experience will take you some 130ft the air as the Aurora Borealis dances around you. There's the chance to cross the Arctic Circle by snowmobile, too, and you’ll stay at the Aurora Safari Camp, a collection of beautifully constructed heated tipis nestled among the trees in remote Swedish Lapland. Three days from £2,275.

2. Svalbard
Next spring, National Geographic Expeditions will set off to the pristine wilds of Svalbard, Norway, on board Ponant's Le Boréal. This is an epic, once-in-a-lifetime journey through Europe's last true wilderness, taking in massive glaciers, ice floes, unique flora and wildlife including Arctic foxes, walruses and even polar bears — all in the company of National Geographic experts. Seven days from £7,673. 27 May-4 June 2021. Flights to Norway depart from and return to Paris.

3. Russia
There aren’t many areas on Earth still waiting to be discovered, but the Russian High Arctic is one of them. This expedition from polar experts Quark will take intrepid travellers to the archipelagos of Franz Josef Land, Novaya Zemlya and Severnaya Zemlya, a place where few souls have visited before. Expect towering glaciers calving into the sea, superlative Arctic wildlife, plus the odd abandoned explorer station. 16 days from £7,830. Departs from and returns to Helsinki.

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