The British Museum welcomes around 17,000 visitors every day, or at least it did last year. There are 94 rooms open to the public, plus a lot more space devoted to storage and curation of the eight million or so items in its collection. At night, when the visitors are gone, strange occurrences baffle security guards.
Sometimes it’s the doors. To complete a full circuit of the museum more than 3,000 doors need to be opened and closed. Some of these, particularly ones that seal off the major galleries, are cumbersome to shut. But when bolted, they won’t open again without a tussle. Except when they do. Take the Sutton Hoo gallery, which houses treasures from an Anglo-Saxon ship, among them a ferocious-looking helmet believed to have been worn by Raedwald, king of the East Angles, in the seventh century. On one occasion a guard bolted the double doors and moved on to the next room, only to be informed by a CCTV operator that the doors stood wide open again. Video footage of the gallery showed them moving spontaneously.
Sometimes it’s a sudden drop in temperature, like the unnerving patches of cold air that linger next to the winged, human-headed bull of Nimrud at the entrance to the Assyrian galleries. Sometimes it’s the sound of footsteps, or music, or crying, where no obvious source can be found.
And sometimes it might be the objects themselves. One night a security guard was passing through the African galleries in the basement and paused for a moment before the figure of a two-headed dog. The guard believed that this 19th-century wooden Congolese fetish, bristling with rough iron nails, possessed some mysterious power. On this particular night he felt an irresistible compulsion to point his finger at it. As he did so, the fire alarms in the gallery went off. A few days later the guard returned to the gallery with his brother, who also pointed at the two-headed dog. Again the alarms sounded.
These are just a few of the many stories of unexplained phenomena at the British Museum. Are the artifacts rebelling? Maybe Indiana Jones was wrong when he said “It belongs in a museum!” -via Metafilter