London BC

Liz Sagues looks at how the Museum of London are revamping their current exhibitions.

Don't rush through prehistory. Stop and savour at least something of a half- million years of human habitation here before the Romans crossed the Channel. With that message, the Museum of London's grand scheme to revamp its permanent exhibition is under way. On view for almost two decades, many of the displays are now 'seriously out of date', acknowledges Museum Director Max Hebditch. The new Prehistoric Gallery, opened just before Christmas, points the way forward. Next in the timetable is the Roman Gallery, to he followed by the Twentieth Century displays. By the end of this century, the whole museum should he ready for the next.

A priority for Jon Cotton, who with fellow Curator of Prehistory Barbara Wood has been working on the new display for a year, has been to slow visitors' progress. For too many, the previous gallery had been little more than a corridor they hurried along towards the riches of Rome. To call a halt to that rush, the new approach balances tradition and technological advance, and early results are promising. All kinds of elements combine to encourage lingering, to create an atmosphere, to involve visitors in real prehistoric life. Birds sing, lighting evokes sun-dappled woodland or cool twilight, painted friezes show the shift in weather and vegetation. Large-type labelling imparts the essence of each section with newspaper-headline impact, smaller type takes the story further for those with enthusiasm to read on.

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