Bygone Empires: London

The star of the show is an alabaster bust of what is thought to be Gudea, ruler of Lagash. One of the earliest portraits in human history (c. 2144–2124 BCE). Gudea is one of the first rulers in the world to deal with climate change, when his Mesopotamian city state was grappling with the dire socio-economic effects of a protracted drought and over-farming their land in the Fertile Crescent. Other highlights of the show include a portrait bust of the ill-fated Roman emperor Vitellius (first century CE), a monumental head of a Chinese bureaucrat from the Tang Dynasty (619-907 CE), and a Bactrian axe head (1200 - 900 BCE) used by warriors in the region now known as Afghanistan and Pakistan. The most recent object in the show is a stone sculpture from the Taino (c. 1500 CE), an essentially vanished indigenous people of the Caribbean, 619-907 CE encountered by Columbus and decimated by Western colonisation and disease within a generation.

The show officially opens exactly (to the day) 1401 years since the death of Emperor Yang of Sui and the fall of the Sui Dynasty in China. Emperor Yang is generally considered by historians to be one of the worst tyrants in Chinese history and the reason for the Sui Dynasty's relatively short rule (581-618 CE). The emperor's hubristic and repeated failed military campaigns, coupled with increased taxation to finance these wars, caused civil unrest and ultimately led to the downfall of the dynasty.