The Wednesday protest at the British Museum (all images by Talia Woodin and Julian Frank; courtesy Save Stonehenge)

Today, April 13, activists staged an action at the British Museum in protest of its World of Stonehenge exhibition, which examines the history of the 5,000-year-old structure in Wiltshire, England and displays associated Neolithic objects. The protest targeted British Petroleum (BP)’s fiscal sponsorship of the museum and the British government’s controversial plan to build a road near the Stonehenge site.

Around 3pm, members of the Stonehenge Heritage Action Group entered the museum’s atrium and poured paint over their heads that looked like oil. They held banners that read “Our Ancestors Would Be Outraged” and “BP Funding Culture and Climate Chaos.” According to a statement by the group, museum security did not attempt to intervene.

“How can they pretend to care about the preservation and protection of the Stonehenge landscape, while simultaneously allowing fossil fuels within their walls?” said a protester who goes by Goldi in an email shared with Hyperallergic.

Protesters gathered outside the British Museum.

Pressure on the British Museum to cut ties with BP has been mounting. Last month, 300 archaeologists signed an open letter to the museum urging the institution to end BP’s sponsorship, and theater collective BP or not BP? staged a protest presenting spoof “Stonehenge drilling plans,” one of many actions organized by the group over the last few years.

Other London museums have already cut their ties to the oil giant: The National Portrait Gallery severed their relationship with BP in February, and the Tate museums decided not to renew its BP partnership back in 2017.

Members of the Stonehenge Heritage Action Group today

The recent protest also addressed the British government’s plan to build a road underneath the greater Stonehenge archeological site, a project that would expand a one-lane road into a two-lane tunnel to ease traffic. In addition to receiving backlash from groups like Greenpeace, the plan has drawn criticism from UNESCO, which warned that the damage done by the road could strip Stonehenge of its World Heritage Site status. Groups fear the dig will damage archeological sites around the Stonehenge site, many of which have yet to be excavated.

In its statement, the Stonehenge Heritage Action Group says that the British Museum’s World of Stonehenge exhibition includes no mention of the tunnel project or its potential threat to the site.

“This is not the only instance in which the museum fails to acknowledge the problematic nature of its exhibits,” the statement reads. “It also contains hundreds of contested items, the spoils of the British Empire’s reach across the globe; including The Rosetta Stone, The Man-Eaters of Tsavo and Magdala Ethiopian Treasures.”

A spokesperson for the British Museum told Hyperallergic: “The British Museum respects other people’s right to express their views and allows peaceful protest onsite at the Museum as long as there is no risk to the Museum’s collection, staff or visitors.”

“Obviously collaborating with fossil fuel giants means the British Museum is complicit in upholding and legitimising the industries who road building projects cater to,” Goldi said.

Editor’s note 4/14/22 2pm EST: This article has been updated to include comment from the British Museum.

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Elaine Velie

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.

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