That was the question that the British museum asked itself back in 1969, the year Neil Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon, the Boeing 747 made its first flight and The Beatles released Abbey Road.

The curator at the time imagined the world in 2069, in an article in Colonnade, the staff magazine.

The future visitor would step out of the lift of the 100-storey Forecourt Heliport, faced with a colonnade painted in a gentle pastel pink especially selected by its psychiatric adviser to make the visitor feel at home.

There, you would be met by the Museum Greeting Keeper of the week,( you would choose your visit to coincide with a selected keeper who could specialise in anything from a Palaeolithic flint expert to an authority on mid-20th-century plastic teaspoons or even one of the bibliographer of probable and possible books.

The world though had changed.The Museum had special dispensation to use the word history after the Re-Education Act of 2059, with its much praised clause ‘Towards the suppression of the past’, after which there had been pressure to turn the buildings over to more humanitarian ends such as temporary accommodation for the under-integrated.

Instead though it had survived, especially as the 37,000-strong British Museum staff were too highly trained to be used anywhere else in the public sector and it would have been a pity if their rarefied skills could not continue to be used in the service of progress.

So it was decided that ‘since every development in the past had once been in the future to somebody, an since all change, as everyone knows, is improvement, so every culture and period in history justifies the superior one which succeeded it, and thus proves at every stage the inevitable rightness of progress’.

Now the visitor will be strapped to a chair and travel at 3mph, for their own safety, for owing to shortage of staff they could not guarantee to recover you if you fell from the band into the pit below it that is overrun with a population of picturesquely savage cats estimated to have increased to several thousand since they were declared a Protected Cultural Property in 2047.

So prepare to view the Old Stone Age, seen from the point of view of a visionary technologist of the Old Stone Age with his recreated thoughts are broadcast over your headphones, right up to the present day, which is described in a concluding 15-minute recorded lecture called ‘The Present: Prelude to the Future’.

Just to give you an idea here is one imagined scenario

We show clearly and graphically just how the artifacts of each age were an improvement on those preceding. Take those plastic spoons again. You can see how the design of English spoons steadily improved from clumsy Medieval ones with their awkward bowls and narrow handles, through the more technologically advanced but far too fussy and ornate silverware of the 18th century, to the beautifully stark and almost practical white plastic spoons of the late 20th century (some from excavations of the BM Canteen of that period), and then to our own dry-ice disposables, which just melt into the air during use. Finally we try to project the future and the possibility, or rather certainty, of the non-spoon, the spoon perhaps which could be created in the user’s mind by taking a hallucinatory pill.

And of course, no visit would be complete without a stay at the publicateria, where food and coffee machines are tastefully and imaginatively alternated with the automatic vendors of publications, postcards and replicas.

For the full tour visit the British Museum Blog


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