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A History of the World in 100 Objects

File:A history of the world in 100 objects book cover.jpg
Cover of A History of the World in 100 Objects, the companion book by Neil MacGregor

A History of the World in 100 Objects was a joint project of BBC Radio 4 and the British Museum, comprising a 100-part radio series written and presented by British Museum director Neil MacGregor. In 15-minute presentations broadcast on weekdays on Radio 4, MacGregor used objects of ancient art, industry, technology and arms, all of which are in the British Museum's collections, as an introduction to parts of human history. The series, four years in planning, began on 18 January 2010 and was broadcast over 20 weeks.[1] A book to accompany the series, A History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor, was published by Allen Lane on 28 October 2010.[2] The entire series is also available for download along with an audio version of the book for purchase. The British Museum won the 2011 Art Fund Prize for its role in hosting the project.


File:Shiva and Parvati sculpture display.jpg
Object 68, the Hindu deity couple Shiva and Parvati sculpture with radio series information panel.

The programme series, described as "a landmark project",[3] is billed as 'A history of humanity' told through a hundred objects from all over the world in the British Museum's collection.

In these programmes, I'm travelling back in time, and across the globe, to see how we humans over 2 million years have shaped our world and been shaped by it, and I'm going to tell this story exclusively through the things that humans have made: all sorts of things, carefully designed, and then either admired and preserved, or used, broken and thrown away. I've chosen just a hundred objects from different points on our journey, from a cooking pot to a golden galleon, from a Stone Age tool to a credit card.[4]
Telling history through things, whether it's an Egyptian mummy or a credit card, is what museums are for, and because the British Museum has collected things from all over the globe, it's not a bad place to try to tell a world history. Of course, it can only be "a" history of the world, not "the" history. When people come to the museum they choose their own objects and make their own journey round the world and through time, but I think what they will find is that their own histories quickly intersect with everybody elses, and when that happens, you no longer have a history of a particular people or nation, but a story of endless connections.[5]

Accompanying the series is a website, described by The Guardian as "even more ambitious [than the radio series itself] that encourages users to submit items of their own for a place in world history", along with much interactive content, detailed information on all the objects featured in the radio programmes and links to 350 other museum collections across the UK.[6] The radio programmes will be available on the website permanently for listening or downloading.

The museum has adapted exhibitions for the series by including additional easily identifiable plaques for the 100 objects with text based on the programme and adding a section to the gallery maps showing the location and numbers of the 100 objects.

On 18 January 2010, an hour-long special of The Culture Show on BBC2 was dedicated to the launch of the project.[7]

The first part of the series was broadcast on weekdays over six weeks between 18 January and 26 February 2010. After a short break, the series returned with the seventh week being broadcast in the week beginning 17 May 2010.[8] It then took another break in the middle of July and returned on 13 September 2010, running til the 100th object was featured on Friday 22 October 2010.


Maev Kennedy of The Guardian described the programme as "a broadcasting phenomenon", while Tim Davie, head of music and audio at BBC radio, commented that "the results have been nothing short of stunning", exceeding the BBC's wildest hopes for the programme. At the time of the writing of Kennedy's article, just before the start of the last week of the series, the radio broadcasts regularly had up to four million listeners, while the podcast downloads had totalled 10,441,884. Of these, just over half, 5.7 million, were from the UK. In addition, members of the public had uploaded 3,240 objects with the largest single contribution coming from Glasgow historian Robert Pool who submitted 120 objects all relating to the City of Glasgow, and other museums a further 1,610, and 531 museums and heritage sites across the UK had been mounting linked events – an unprecedented partnership, MacGregor said. Museums all over the world are now copying the formula, as thousands of visitors every day set out to explore the British Museum galleries equipped with the leaflet mapping the objects.[9]

Writing in The Independent, Philip Hensher described the series as "perfect radio", saying "Has there ever been a more exciting, more unfailingly interesting radio series than the Radio 4/British Museum venture, A History of the World in 100 Objects? It is such a beautifully simple idea, to trace human civilisations through the objects that happen to have survived. Each programme, just 15 minutes long, focuses on just one thing, quite patiently, without dawdling. At the end, you feel that you have learnt something, and learnt it with pleasure and interest. For years to come, the BBC will be able to point to this wonderful series as an example of the things that it does best. It fulfils, to a degree that one thought hardly possible any more, the BBC's Reithian agenda of improvement and the propagation of learning and culture."[10]

Dominic Sandbrook in The Telegraph said that the "joyously highbrow" series "deserves to take its place alongside television classics such as Kenneth Clark's Civilisation and Jacob Bronowski's The Ascent of Man."[11]


Making us human (2,000,000 – 9,000 BC)

"Neil MacGregor reveals the earliest objects that define us as humans."[12] First broadcast week beginning 18 January 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 1 Mummy of Hornedjitef Egypt 300 – 200 BC BBC BM, BM, BM Amartya Sen, John Taylor
100px 2 Stone (basalt) chopping tool Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania 1.8 – 2 million years old BBC BM Sir David Attenborough, Wangari Maathai
100px 3 Hand axe Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania 1.2 – 1.4 million years old BBC BM Sir James Dyson, Phil Harding, Nick Ashton
100px 4 Swimming Reindeer from Montastruc rock shelter France 13,000 years old BBC BM The Most Reverend Rowan Williams, Steve Mithen
100px 5 Clovis spear point New Mexico, USA 13,000 years old BBC BM Michael Palin, Gary Haynes

After the Ice Age: food and sex (9,000 – 3,000 BC)

"Why did farming start at the end of the Ice Age? Clues remain in objects left behind."[12] First broadcast week beginning 25 January 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 6 Bird-shaped pestle Papua New Guinea 4,000 – 8,000 years old BBC BM Madhur Jaffrey, Bob Geldof, Martin Jones
100px 7 Ain Sakhri lovers Israel about 11,000 years old BBC BM Marc Quinn, Ian Hodder
100px 8 Clay model of cattle Egypt about 3500 BC BBC BM Fekri Hassan, Martin Jones
100px 9 Maya maize god statue Honduras AD 715 BBC BM Santiago Calva, John Staller
100px 10 Jomon pot Japan about 5000 BC BBC BM Simon Kamer, Takashi Doi

The first cities and states (4,000 – 2,000 BC)

"What happens as people move from villages to cities? Five objects tell the story."[12] First broadcast week beginning 1 February 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 11 King Den's sandal label Egypt about 2,985 BC BBC BM Toby Wilkinson, Steve Bell
100px 12 Standard of Ur Iraq 2600 – 2400 BC BBC BM Lamia al Gailani, Anthony Giddens
100px 13 An Indus seal Pakistan 4000 – 2000 BC BBC BM Richard Rogers, Nayanjot Lahiri
100px 14 Jadeite axe from the Alps, found in England 4000 – 2000 BC BBC BM Mark Edmonds, Pierre Petrequin
100px 15 Early writing tablet Iraq 3100 – 3000 BC BBC BM Gus O'Donnell, John Searle

The beginning of science and literature (1500 – 700 BC)

"4,000 years ago, societies began to express themselves through myth, maths and monuments."[12] First broadcast week beginning 8 February 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 16 Flood tablet Iraq 700 – 600 BC BBC BM David Damrosch, Jonathan Sacks
100px 17 Rhind Mathematical Papyrus Egypt about 1550 BC BBC BM Eleanor Robson, Clive Rix
100px 18 Minoan Bull-leaper Crete 1700–1450 BC BBC BM Sergio Delgado, Lucy Blue
100px 19 Mold gold cape Wales 1900–1600 BC BBC BM Mary Cahill, Marie Louise Sørensen
100px 20 Statue of Ramesses II Egypt about 1,250 BC BBC BM Antony Gormley, Karen Exell

Old world, new powers (1100–300 BC)

"Across the world new regimes create objects to assert their supremacy."[12] First broadcast week beginning 15 February 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 21 Lachish Reliefs Iraq 700 – 692 BC BBC BM Paddy Ashdown, Antony Beevor
100px 22 Sphinx of Taharqa Sudan about 680 BC BBC BM Zeinab Badawi, Derek Welsby
100px 23 Early Zhou dynasty gui ritual vessel China 1100–1000 BC BBC BM Dame Jessica Rawson, Wang Tao
100px 24 Paracas Textile Peru 300–200 BC BBC BM Zandra Rhodes, Mary Frame
100px 25 Gold coin of Croesus Turkey c. 550 BC BBC BM James Buchan, Paul Craddock

The world in the age of Confucius (500–300 BC)

"Can meanings hidden in friezes and flagons tell us as much as the writings of great men?"[12] First broadcast week beginning 22 February 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 26 Oxus chariot model Tajikistan 500–300 BC BBC BM Michael Axworthy, Tom Holland
100px 27 Parthenon sculpture: Centaur and Lapith Greece about 440 BC BBC BM Mary Beard, Olga Palagia
100px 28 Basse Yutz Flagons France c. 450 BC BBC BM Jonathan Meades, Barry Cunliffe
100px 29 Olmec stone mask Mexico 900–400 BC BBC BM Carlos Fuentes, Karl Taube
100px 30 Chinese bronze bell China 500–400 BC BBC BM Dame Evelyn Glennie, Isabel Hilton

Empire builders (300 BC – AD 1)

"Neil MacGregor continues his global history told through objects. This week he is with the great rulers of the world around 2,000 years ago"[13] First broadcast week beginning 17 May 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 31 Coin of Lysimachus with head of Alexander Turkey 305 – 281 BC BBC BM Andrew Marr, Robin Lane Fox
100px 32 Pillar of Ashoka India about 238 BC BBC BM Amartya Sen, Michael Rutland
100px 33 The Rosetta Stone Egypt 196 BC BBC BM Dorothy Thompson, Ahdaf Soueif
100px 34 Chinese Han lacquer cup China AD 4 BBC BM Roel Sterckx, Isabel Hilton
100px 35 Meroë Head or Head of Augustus Sudan 27 – 25 BC BBC BM Boris Johnson, Susan Walker

Ancient pleasures, modern spice (AD 1 – 600)

"Neil MacGregor explores the ways in which people sought pleasure 2,000 years ago."[12] First broadcast week beginning 24 May 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 36 The Warren Cup Israel AD 5 – 15 BBC BM Bettany Hughes, James Davidson
100px 37 North American otter pipe USA 200 BC – AD 100 BBC BM Tony Benn, Gabrielle Tayac
100px 38 Ceremonial ballgame belt Mexico AD 100 – 500 BBC BM Nick Hornby, Michael Whittington
100px 39 Admonitions Scroll China AD 500 – 800 BBC BM Shane McCausland, Charles Powell
100px 40 Hoxne pepper pot England AD 350 – 400 BBC BM Christine McFadden, Roberta Tomber

The rise of world faiths (AD 200 – 600)

"Neil MacGregor explores how and when many great religious images came into existence."[12] First broadcast week beginning 31 May 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 41 Seated Buddha from Gandhara Pakistan AD 100 – 300 BBC BM Claudine Bautze-Picron, Thupten Jinpa
100px 42 Gold coin of Kumaragupta I India AD 415 – 450 BBC BM Romila Thapar, Shaunaka Rishi Das
100px 43 Silver plate showing Shapur II Iran AD 309 – 379 BBC BM Tom Holland, Guitty Azarpay
100px 44 Hinton St Mary Mosaic England AD 300 – 400 BBC BM Dame Averil Cameron, Eamonn Duffy
100px 45 Arabian bronze hand Yemen AD 100 – 300 BBC BM Jeremy Field, Philip Jenkins

The Silk Road and beyond (AD 400 – 700)

"Five objects from the British Museum tell the story of the movement of goods and ideas."[12] First broadcast week beginning 7 June 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 46 Gold coins of Abd al-Malik Syria AD 696 – 697 BBC BM Madawi Al-Rasheed, Hugh Kennedy
100px 47 Sutton Hoo helmet England AD 600 – 700 BBC BM Seamus Heaney, Angus Wainwright
100px 48 Moche warrior pot Peru AD 100 – 700 BBC BM Grayson Perry, Steve Bourget
100px 49 Korean roof tile Korea AD 700 – 800 BBC BM Jane Portal, Choe Kwang Shik
125px 50 Silk princess painting China AD 600 – 800 BBC BM Yo Yo Ma, Colin Thubron

Inside the palace: secrets at court (AD 700 – 950)

"Neil MacGregor gets an insight into the lives of the ruling elites 1200 years ago."[12] First broadcast week beginning 14 June 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 51 Yaxchilan Lintel 24, Maya relief of royal blood-letting Mexico AD 700 – 750 BBC BM Susie Orbach, Virginia Fields
100px 52 Harem wall painting fragments Iraq AD 800 – 900 BBC BM Robert Irwin, Amira Bennison
100px 53 Lothair Crystal probably Germany AD 855 – 869 BBC BM Lord Bingham, Rosamund McKitterick
100px 54 Statue of Tara Salihundam, Sri Lanka AD 700 – 900 BBC BM Richard Gombrich, Nira Wickramasinghe
100px 55 Chinese Tang tomb figures China about AD 728 BBC BM Anthony Howard, Oliver Moore

Pilgrims, raiders and traders (AD 900 – 1300)

"How trade, war and religion moved objects around the globe 1000 years ago."[12] First broadcast week beginning 21 June 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 56 Vale of York Hoard England about AD 927 BBC BM Michael Wood, David and Andrew Whelan
100px 57 Hedwig glass beaker probably Syria AD 1100–1200 BBC BM Jonathan Riley-Smith, David Abulafia
100px 58 Japanese bronze mirror Japan AD 1100–1200 BBC BM Ian Buruma, Harada Masayuki
100px 59 Borobudur Buddha head Java AD 780 – 840 BBC BM Stephen Bachelor, Nigel Barley
100px 60 Kilwa pot sherds Tanzania AD 900 – 1400 BBC BM Bertram Mapunda, Abdulrazek Gurnah

Status symbols (AD 1200–1400)

"Neil MacGregor examines objects which hold status and required skilful making."[12] First broadcast week beginning 28 June 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 61 Lewis Chessmen probably made in Norway, found in Scotland AD 1150–1200 BBC BM Martin Amis, Miri Rubin
100px 62 Hebrew astrolabe Spain AD 1345–1355 BBC BM Sir John Elliott, Silke Ackermann
100px 63 Bronze Head from Ife Nigeria AD 1400–1500 BBC BM Ben Okri, Babatunde Lawal
100px 64 The David Vases China AD 1351 BBC BM Jenny Uglow, Craig Clunas
100px 65 Taino Ritual Seat Santa Domingo, Caribbean AD 1200–1500 BBC BM Jose Oliver, Gabriel Haslip-Viera

Meeting the gods (AD 1200–1400)

"Objects from the British Museum show how the faithful were brought closer to their gods."[12] First broadcast week beginning 5 July 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 66 Holy Thorn Reliquary France AD 1350–1400 BBC BM Sister Benedicta Ward, Right Reverend Arthur Roche
100px 67 Icon of the Triumph of Orthodoxy Turkey AD 1350–1400 BBC BM Bill Viola, Diarmaid MacCulloch
100px 68 Shiva and Parvati sculpture India AD 1100–1300 BBC BM Shaunaka Rishi Das, Karen Armstrong
100px 69 Sculpture of Tlazolteotl Mexico AD 900 – 1521 BBC BM Marina Warner, Kim Richter
100px 70 Hoa Hakananai'a Easter Island AD 1000–1200 BBC BM Sir Anthony Caro, Steve Hooper

The threshold of the modern world (AD 1375–1550)

"Neil MacGregor explores the great empires of the world in the threshold of the modern era."[12] First broadcast week beginning 13 September 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 71 Tughra of Suleiman the Magnificent Turkey AD 1520–1566 BBC BM Elif Şafak, Caroline Finkel
100px 72 Ming banknote China AD 1375 BBC BM Mervyn King, Timothy Brook
100px 73 Inca gold llama Peru about AD 1500 BBC BM Jared Diamond, Gabriel Ramon
100px 74 Ulugh Beg cup Central Asia about AD 1420–49 BBC BM Beatrice Forbes Manz, Hamid Ismailov
100px 75 Dürer's 'Rhinoceros' Germany AD 1515 BBC BM Mark Pilgrim, Felipe Fernandez-Armesto

The first global economy (AD 1450–1600)

"Neil MacGregor traces the impact of travel, trade and conquest from 1450 to 1600."[12] First broadcast 20 September 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 76 Mechanical Galleon Germany c. 1585 BBC BM Lisa Jardine, Christopher Dobbs
100px 77 Benin plaque: the oba with Europeans Nigeria 16th century BBC BM Sokari Douglas Camp, Wole Soyinka
100px 78 Double-headed serpent Mexico 15th–16th century BBC BM Rebecca Stacey, Adriana Diaz-Enciso
100px 79 Kakiemon elephants Japan late 17th century BBC BM Miranda Rock, Sakaida Kakiemon XIV
100px 80 Pieces of eight from Spain, found in Bolivia AD 1589–1598 BBC BM Tuti Prado, William Bernstein

Tolerance and intolerance (AD 1550–1700)

"Neil MacGregor tells how the great religions lived together in the C16th and C17th."[12] First broadcast week beginning 27 September 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 81 Shi'a religious parade standard Iran Late 17th century BBC BM Haleh Afshar, Hossein Pourtahmasbi
100px 82 Miniature of a Mughal prince India about AD 1610 BBC BM Asok Kumar Das, Aman Nath
83 Shadow puppet of Bima Java 1600–1800 BBC BM Mr Sumarsam, Tash Aw
100px 84 Mexican codex map Mexico Late 16th century BBC BM Samuel Edgerton, Fernando Cervantes
100px 85 Reformation centenary broadsheet Germany AD 1617 BBC BM Karen Armstrong, Ian Hislop

Exploration, exploitation and enlightenment (AD 1680–1820)

"Neil MacGregor on the misunderstandings that can happen when different worlds collide."[12] First broadcast 4 October 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 86 Akan Drum from Africa, found in the USA 18th century BBC BM Bonnie Greer, Anthony Appiah
100px 87 Hawaiian feathered helmet Hawaii 18th century BBC BM Nicholas Thomas, Kyle Nakanelua
100px 88 North American buckskin map USA 1774-5 BBC BM Malcolm Lewis, David Edmunds
100px 89 Australian bark shield Australia 1770 BBC BM Phil Gordon, Maria Nugent
100px 90 Jade bi with poem China 1790 BBC BM Jonathan Spence, Yang Lian

Mass production, mass persuasion (AD 1780–1914)

"How industrialisation, mass politics and imperial ambitions changed the world."[12] First broadcast week beginning 11 October 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 91 Ship's chronometer from HMS Beagle England 1795–1805 BBC BM Nigel Thrift, Steve Jones
100px 92 Early Victorian tea set England 1840–1845 BBC BM Celina Fox, Monique Simmonds
100px 93 Hokusai's 'The Great Wave' Japan c. 1829–32 BBC BM Christine Guth, Donald Keene
100px 94 Sudanese slit drum Sudan 19th century BBC BM Dominic Green, Zeinab Badawi
100px 95 Suffragette defaced penny England 1903 BBC BM Felicity Powell, Helena Kennedy

The world of our making (AD 1914–2010)

"Neil MacGregor explores aspects of sexual, political and economic history of recent times."[12] First broadcast week beginning 18 October 2010.

Image Number Object Origin Date BBC website BM website Additional contributors
100px 96 Russian Revolutionary Plate designed by Mikhail Adamovich Russia 1921 BBC BM Eric Hobsbawm, Mikhail Piotrovsky
In the dull village
97 Hockney's In the dull village England 1966 BBC BM Shami Chakrabarti, David Hockney
100px 98 Throne of Weapons Mozambique 2001 BBC BM Kofi Annan, Bishop Dinis Sengulane
99 Sharia compliant Visa Credit card United Arab Emirates 2009 BBC BM Mervyn King, Razi Fakih
100px 100 Solar-powered lamp and charger China 2010 BBC Nick Stern, Aloka Sarder, Boniface Nyamu

Special edition

A special radio programme on Radio 4, first broadcast on 18 May 2011, featured one of the many thousands of items nominated on the BBC website by members of the public as an object of special significance.[14] The object chosen to be featured on the programme was an oil painting depicting a young woman that was nominated by Peter Lewis. The painting, which belonged to Lewis' uncle, Bryn Roberts, was painted from a postcard photograph of Roberts' girlfriend (and later wife), Peggy Gullup, by an anonymous Jewish artist for Roberts whilst he was a prisoner of war at Auschwitz in Poland.[15][16]

Art Fund Prize

The British Museum won the 2011 Art Fund Prize for museums and galleries for its part in the A History of the World in 100 Objects series. The prize, worth £100,000, was presented to the museum by Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, in a ceremony at London on 15 June 2011.[17]

The chairman of the panel of judges, Michael Portillo, noted that the judges were "particularly impressed by the truly global scope of the British Museum’s project, which combined intellectual rigour and open heartedness, and went far beyond the boundaries of the museum’s walls".[18] The judges were also very impressed by the way that the project used digital media in ground-breaking and novel ways to interact with audiences.[18]

See also


  1. ^ Ben Hoyle (18 July 2009). "British Museum and BBC reveal history of world in 100 objects". Times Online. 
  2. ^ MacGregor, Neil (2010), A History of the World in 100 Objects, Penguin Books, Limited, ISBN 978-1-84614-413-4 
  3. ^ Gillian Reynolds (18 January 2010). "A History of the World in 100 Objects, Radio 4, review". London: Daily Telegraph. 
  4. ^ Neil MacGregor, Programme 1, broadcast 18 January 2010
  5. ^ Neil MacGregor, Programme 1,broadcast 18 January 2010
  6. ^ Bunz, Mercedes (19 January 2010). "Beyond 100 objects: exploring the BBC's online history of the world". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 23 April 2010. 
  7. ^ "History of the World: Culture Show Special". BBC The Culture Show. 18 January 2010. 
  8. ^ Elisabeth Mahoney (2010-05-18). "A History of the World in 100 Objects". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 2010-06-10. 
  9. ^ Maev Kennedy (14 October 2010). "Radio 4's A History of the World in 100 Objects draws to a close". The Guardian. 
  10. ^ Philip Hensher (15 October 2010). "Philip Hensher: The objects of my affection". The Independent. 
  11. ^ Dominic Sandbrook (11 October 2010). "An object lesson in history from Radio Four". The Telegraph. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s "A History of the World in 100 objects — Programmes". Archived from the original on 23 September 2010. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  13. ^ "A History of the World in 100 objects — Empire Builders (300 BC – 1 AD)". Archived from the original on 28 September 2010. Retrieved 2 October 2010. 
  14. ^ Gillian Reynolds (12 May 2011). "A History of the World Special, Radio 4, preview". Daily Telegraph. 
  15. ^ "A History of the World Special". BBC Radio 4. 
  16. ^ Jessica Elgot (19 May 2011). "He put colour in her cheeks: did her smile save his life?". Jewish Chronicle. 
  17. ^ Mark Brown (15 June 2011). "British Museum wins Arts Fund prize". The Guardian. 
  18. ^ a b "British Museum scoops £100,000 Art Fund Prize and is crowned 'Museum of the Year'". The Art Fund. 

External links

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