British Museum

The British Museum, in the Bloomsbury area of London, United Kingdom, is a public institution dedicated to human history, art and culture. Its permanent collection of some eight million works is among the largest and most comprehensive in existence,[3] having been widely sourced during the era of the British Empire. It documents the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present.[a] It was the first public national museum in the world.[4]

The British Museum was established in 1753, largely based on the collections of the Irish physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane.[5] It first opened to the public in 1759, in Montagu House, on the site of the current building. Its expansion over the following 250 years was largely a result of expanding British colonisation and has resulted in the creation of several branch institutions, the first being the Natural History Museum in 1881.

In 1973, the British Library Act 1972 detached the library department from the British Museum, but it continued to host the now separated British Library in the same Reading Room and building as the museum until 1997. The museum is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, and as with all national museums in the UK it charges no admission fee, except for loan exhibitions.[6]

Its ownership of some of its most famous objects originating in other countries is disputed and remains the subject of international controversy, most notably in the case of the Parthenon Marbles.[7]

British Museum
British Museum (aerial)
British Museum is located in Central London
British Museum
Location within central London
LocationGreat Russell Street
London, WC1B
United Kingdom
Coordinates51°31′10″N 0°07′37″W / 51.5195°N 0.1269°WCoordinates: 51°31′10″N 0°07′37″W / 51.5195°N 0.1269°W
Collection sizeapprox. 8 million objects[1]
Visitors5,828,552 (2018)[2]
ChairmanSir Richard Lambert
DirectorHartwig Fischer
Public transit accessLondon Underground Goodge Street; Holborn; Tottenham Court Road; Russell Square;
Area807,000 sq ft (75,000 m2) in
94 galleries
British Museum Great Court, London, UK - Diliff
The Great Court was developed in 2001 and surrounds the original Reading Room.


Sir Hans Sloane

Although today principally a museum of cultural art objects and antiquities, the British Museum was founded as a "universal museum". Its foundations lie in the will of the Irish physician and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753), a London-based doctor and scientist from Ulster. During the course of his lifetime, and particularly after he married the widow of a wealthy Jamaican planter,[8] Sloane gathered a large collection of curiosities and, not wishing to see his collection broken up after death, he bequeathed it to King George II, for the nation, for a sum of £20,000.[9]

At that time, Sloane's collection consisted of around 71,000 objects of all kinds[10] including some 40,000 printed books, 7,000 manuscripts, extensive natural history specimens including 337 volumes of dried plants, prints and drawings including those by Albrecht Dürer and antiquities from Sudan, Egypt, Greece, Rome, the Ancient Near and Far East and the Americas.[11]

Foundation (1753)

On 7 June 1753, King George II gave his Royal Assent to the Act of Parliament which established the British Museum.[b] The British Museum Act 1753 also added two other libraries to the Sloane collection, namely the Cottonian Library, assembled by Sir Robert Cotton, dating back to Elizabethan times, and the Harleian Library, the collection of the Earls of Oxford. They were joined in 1757 by the "Old Royal Library", now the Royal manuscripts, assembled by various British monarchs. Together these four "foundation collections" included many of the most treasured books now in the British Library[13] including the Lindisfarne Gospels and the sole surviving manuscript of Beowulf.[c]

The North Prospect of Mountague House JamesSimonc1715
Montagu House, c. 1715

The British Museum was the first of a new kind of museum – national, belonging to neither church nor king, freely open to the public and aiming to collect everything. Sloane's collection, while including a vast miscellany of objects, tended to reflect his scientific interests.[14] The addition of the Cotton and Harley manuscripts introduced a literary and antiquarian element and meant that the British Museum now became both National Museum and library.[15]

Cabinet of curiosities (1753–1778)

Rosetta Stone International Congress of Orientalists ILN 1874
The Rosetta Stone on display in the British Museum in 1874

The body of trustees decided on a converted 17th-century mansion, Montagu House, as a location for the museum, which it bought from the Montagu family for £20,000. The trustees rejected Buckingham House, on the site now occupied by Buckingham Palace, on the grounds of cost and the unsuitability of its location.[16][d]

With the acquisition of Montagu House, the first exhibition galleries and reading room for scholars opened on 15 January 1759.[17] At this time, the largest parts of collection were the library, which took up the majority of the rooms on the ground floor of Montagu House and the natural history objects, which took up an entire wing on the second state storey of the building. In 1763, the trustees of the British Museum, under the influence of Peter Collinson and William Watson, employed the former student of Carl Linnaeus, Daniel Solander to reclassify the natural history collection according to the Linnaean system, thereby making the Museum a public centre of learning accessible to the full range of European natural historians.[18] In 1823, King George IV[19] gave the King's Library assembled by George III, and Parliament gave the right to a copy of every book published in the country, thereby ensuring that the museum's library would expand indefinitely. During the few years after its foundation the British Museum received several further gifts, including the Thomason Collection of Civil War Tracts and David Garrick's library of 1,000 printed plays. The predominance of natural history, books and manuscripts began to lessen when in 1772 the museum acquired for £8,410 its first significant antiquities in Sir William Hamilton's "first" collection of Greek vases.[20]

Indolence and energy (1778–1800)

Entrance ticket to the British Museum, London March 3, 1790
Entrance ticket to the British Museum, London 3 March 1790

From 1778, a display of objects from the South Seas brought back from the round-the-world voyages of Captain James Cook and the travels of other explorers fascinated visitors with a glimpse of previously unknown lands. The bequest of a collection of books, engraved gems, coins, prints and drawings by Clayton Mordaunt Cracherode in 1800 did much to raise the museum's reputation; but Montagu House became increasingly crowded and decrepit and it was apparent that it would be unable to cope with further expansion.[21]

The museum's first notable addition towards its collection of antiquities, since its foundation, was by Sir William Hamilton (1730–1803), British Ambassador to Naples, who sold his collection of Greek and Roman artefacts to the museum in 1784 together with a number of other antiquities and natural history specimens. A list of donations to the museum, dated 31 January 1784, refers to the Hamilton bequest of a "Colossal Foot of an Apollo in Marble". It was one of two antiquities of Hamilton's collection drawn for him by Francesco Progenie, a pupil of Pietro Fabris, who also contributed a number of drawings of Mount Vesuvius sent by Hamilton to the Royal Society in London.

Growth and change (1800–1825)

Left to Right: Montagu House, Townley Gallery and Sir Robert Smirke's west wing under construction, July 1828

In the early 19th century the foundations for the extensive collection of sculpture began to be laid and Greek, Roman and Egyptian artefacts dominated the antiquities displays. After the defeat of the French campaign in the Battle of the Nile, in 1801, the British Museum acquired more Egyptian sculptures and in 1802 King George III presented the Rosetta Stone – key to the deciphering of hieroglyphs.[22] Gifts and purchases from Henry Salt, British consul general in Egypt, beginning with the Colossal bust of Ramesses II in 1818, laid the foundations of the collection of Egyptian Monumental Sculpture.[23] Many Greek sculptures followed, notably the first purpose-built exhibition space, the Charles Towneley collection, much of it Roman Sculpture, in 1805. In 1806, Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, ambassador to the Ottoman Empire from 1799 to 1803 removed the large collection of marble sculptures from the Parthenon, on the Acropolis in Athens and transferred them to the UK. In 1816 these masterpieces of western art, were acquired by The British Museum by Act of Parliament and deposited in the museum thereafter.[24] The collections were supplemented by the Bassae frieze from Phigaleia, Greece in 1815. The Ancient Near Eastern collection also had its beginnings in 1825 with the purchase of Assyrian and Babylonian antiquities from the widow of Claudius James Rich.[25]

In 1802 a buildings committee was set up to plan for expansion of the museum, and further highlighted by the donation in 1822 of the King's Library, personal library of King George III's, comprising 65,000 volumes, 19,000 pamphlets, maps, charts and topographical drawings.[26] The neoclassical architect, Sir Robert Smirke, was asked to draw up plans for an eastern extension to the museum "... for the reception of the Royal Library, and a Picture Gallery over it ..."[27] and put forward plans for today's quadrangular building, much of which can be seen today. The dilapidated Old Montagu House was demolished and work on the King's Library Gallery began in 1823. The extension, the East Wing, was completed by 1831. However, following the founding of the National Gallery, London in 1824,[e] the proposed Picture Gallery was no longer needed, and the space on the upper floor was given over to the Natural history collections.[28]

The largest building site in Europe (1825–1850)

Image-The Grenville Library (1875)
The Grenville Library, 1875

The museum became a construction site as Sir Robert Smirke's grand neo-classical building gradually arose. The King's Library, on the ground floor of the East Wing, was handed over in 1827, and was described as one of the finest rooms in London. Although it was not fully open to the general public until 1857, special openings were arranged during The Great Exhibition of 1851. In spite of dirt and disruption the collections grew, outpacing the new building.

In 1840, the museum became involved in its first overseas excavations, Charles Fellows's expedition to Xanthos, in Asia Minor, whence came remains of the tombs of the rulers of ancient Lycia, among them the Nereid and Payava monuments. In 1857, Charles Newton was to discover the 4th-century BC Mausoleum of Halikarnassos, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. In the 1840s and 1850s the museum supported excavations in Assyria by A.H. Layard and others at sites such as Nimrud and Nineveh. Of particular interest to curators was the eventual discovery of Ashurbanipal's great library of cuneiform tablets, which helped to make the museum a focus for Assyrian studies.[29]

Sir Thomas Grenville (1755–1846), a trustee of the British Museum from 1830, assembled a library of 20,240 volumes, which he left to the museum in his will. The books arrived in January 1847 in twenty-one horse-drawn vans. The only vacant space for this large library was a room originally intended for manuscripts, between the Front Entrance Hall and the Manuscript Saloon. The books remained here until the British Library moved to St Pancras in 1998.

Collecting from the wider world (1850–1875)

The opening of the forecourt in 1852 marked the completion of Robert Smirke's 1823 plan, but already adjustments were having to be made to cope with the unforeseen growth of the collections. Infill galleries were constructed for Assyrian sculptures and Sydney Smirke's Round Reading Room, with space for a million books, opened in 1857. Because of continued pressure on space the decision was taken to move natural history to a new building in South Kensington, which would later become the British Museum of Natural History.

Roughly contemporary with the construction of the new building was the career of a man sometimes called the "second founder" of the British Museum, the Italian librarian Anthony Panizzi. Under his supervision, the British Museum Library (now part of the British Library) quintupled in size and became a well-organised institution worthy of being called a national library, the largest library in the world after the National Library of Paris.[15] The quadrangle at the centre of Smirke's design proved to be a waste of valuable space and was filled at Panizzi's request by a circular Reading Room of cast iron, designed by Smirke's brother, Sydney Smirke.[30]

Until the mid-19th century, the museum's collections were relatively circumscribed but, in 1851, with the appointment to the staff of Augustus Wollaston Franks to curate the collections, the museum began for the first time to collect British and European medieval antiquities, prehistory, branching out into Asia and diversifying its holdings of ethnography. A real coup for the museum was the purchase in 1867, over French objections, of the Duke of Blacas's wide-ranging and valuable collection of antiquities. Overseas excavations continued and John Turtle Wood discovered the remains of the 4th century BC Temple of Artemis at Ephesos, another Wonder of the Ancient World.[31]

Scholarship and legacies (1875–1900)

The natural history collections were an integral part of the British Museum until their removal to the new British Museum of Natural History in 1887, nowadays the Natural History Museum. With the departure and the completion of the new White Wing (fronting Montague Street) in 1884, more space was available for antiquities and ethnography and the library could further expand. This was a time of innovation as electric lighting was introduced in the Reading Room and exhibition galleries.[32]

The William Burges collection of armoury was bequeathed to the museum in 1881. In 1882, the museum was involved in the establishment of the independent Egypt Exploration Fund (now Society) the first British body to carry out research in Egypt. A bequest from Miss Emma Turner in 1892 financed excavations in Cyprus. In 1897 the death of the great collector and curator, A. W. Franks, was followed by an immense bequest of 3,300 finger rings, 153 drinking vessels, 512 pieces of continental porcelain, 1,500 netsuke, 850 inro, over 30,000 bookplates and miscellaneous items of jewellery and plate, among them the Oxus Treasure.[33]

In 1898 Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild bequeathed the Waddesdon Bequest, the glittering contents from his New Smoking Room at Waddesdon Manor. This consisted of almost 300 pieces of objets d'art et de vertu which included exquisite examples of jewellery, plate, enamel, carvings, glass and maiolica, among them the Holy Thorn Reliquary, probably created in the 1390s in Paris for John, Duke of Berry. The collection was in the tradition of a schatzkammer or treasure house such as those formed by the Renaissance princes of Europe.[34] Baron Ferdinand's will was most specific, and failure to observe the terms would make it void, the collection should be

placed in a special room to be called the Waddesdon Bequest Room separate and apart from the other contents of the Museum and thenceforth for ever thereafter, keep the same in such room or in some other room to be substituted for it.[34]

These terms are still observed, and the collection occupies room 45, although it moved to new quarters in 2015.

New century, new building (1900–1925)

England; London - The British Museum, Archive King Edward VII's Galleries ~ North Wing (1914).2
Opening of The North Wing, King Edward VII's Galleries, 1914
Woolley holding the hardened plaster mold of a lyre
Sir Leonard Woolley holding the excavated Sumerian Queen's Lyre, 1922

By the last years of the 19th century, The British Museum's collections had increased to the extent that its building was no longer large enough. In 1895 the trustees purchased the 69 houses surrounding the museum with the intention of demolishing them and building around the west, north and east sides of the museum. The first stage was the construction of the northern wing beginning 1906.

All the while, the collections kept growing. Emil Torday collected in Central Africa, Aurel Stein in Central Asia, D.G. Hogarth, Leonard Woolley and T. E. Lawrence excavated at Carchemish. Around this time, the American collector and philanthropist J Pierpont Morgan donated a substantial number of objects to the museum,[35] including William Greenwell's collection of prehistoric artefacts from across Europe which he had purchased for £10,000 in 1908. Morgan had also acquired a major part of Sir John Evans's coin collection, which was later sold to the museum by his son John Pierpont Morgan Junior in 1915. In 1918, because of the threat of wartime bombing, some objects were evacuated via the London Post Office Railway to Holborn, the National Library of Wales (Aberystwyth) and a country house near Malvern. On the return of antiquities from wartime storage in 1919 some objects were found to have deteriorated. A conservation laboratory was set up in May 1920 and became a permanent department in 1931. It is today the oldest in continuous existence.[36] In 1923, the British Museum welcomed over one million visitors.

Disruption and reconstruction (1925–1950)

New mezzanine floors were constructed and book stacks rebuilt in an attempt to cope with the flood of books. In 1931, the art dealer Sir Joseph Duveen offered funds to build a gallery for the Parthenon sculptures. Designed by the American architect John Russell Pope, it was completed in 1938. The appearance of the exhibition galleries began to change as dark Victorian reds gave way to modern pastel shades.[f] However, in August 1939, due to the imminence of war and the likelihood of air-raids, the Parthenon Sculptures, along with the museum's most valued collections, were dispersed to secure basements, country houses, Aldwych Underground station, the National Library of Wales and a quarry. The evacuation was timely, for in 1940 the Duveen Gallery was severely damaged by bombing.[38] Meanwhile, prior to the war, the Nazis had sent a researcher to the British Museum for several years with the aim of "compiling an anti-Semitic history of Anglo-Jewry".[39] After the war, the museum continued to collect from all countries and all centuries: among the most spectacular additions were the 2600 BC Mesopotamian treasure from Ur, discovered during Leonard Woolley's 1922–34 excavations. Gold, silver and garnet grave goods from the Anglo-Saxon ship burial at Sutton Hoo (1939) and late Roman silver tableware from Mildenhall, Suffolk (1946). The immediate post-war years were taken up with the return of the collections from protection and the restoration of the museum after the Blitz. Work also began on restoring the damaged Duveen Gallery.

A new public face (1950–1975)

The Duveen Gallery (1980s)
The re-opened Duveen Gallery, 1980

In 1953, the museum celebrated its bicentenary. Many changes followed: the first full-time in house designer and publications officer were appointed in 1964, the Friends organisation was set up in 1968, an Education Service established in 1970 and publishing house in 1973. In 1963, a new Act of Parliament introduced administrative reforms. It became easier to lend objects, the constitution of the board of trustees changed and the Natural History Museum became fully independent. By 1959 the Coins and Medals office suite, completely destroyed during the war, was rebuilt and re-opened, attention turned towards the gallery work with new tastes in design leading to the remodelling of Robert Smirke's Classical and Near Eastern galleries.[40] In 1962 the Duveen Gallery was finally restored and the Parthenon Sculptures were moved back into it, once again at the heart of the museum.[g]

By the 1970s the museum was again expanding. More services for the public were introduced; visitor numbers soared, with the temporary exhibition "Treasures of Tutankhamun" in 1972, attracting 1,694,117 visitors, the most successful in British history. In the same year the Act of Parliament establishing the British Library was passed, separating the collection of manuscripts and printed books from the British Museum. This left the museum with antiquities; coins, medals and paper money; prints & drawings; and ethnography. A pressing problem was finding space for additions to the library which now required an extra 1 14 miles (2.0 km) of shelving each year. The Government suggested a site at St Pancras for the new British Library but the books did not leave the museum until 1997.

The Great Court emerges (1975–2000)

The departure of the British Library to a new site at St Pancras, finally achieved in 1998, provided the space needed for the books. It also created the opportunity to redevelop the vacant space in Robert Smirke's 19th-century central quadrangle into the Queen Elizabeth II Great Court – the largest covered square in Europe – which opened in 2000. The ethnography collections, which had been housed in the short-lived Museum of Mankind at 6 Burlington Gardens from 1970, were returned to new purpose-built galleries in the museum in 2000.

The museum again readjusted its collecting policies as interest in "modern" objects: prints, drawings, medals and the decorative arts reawakened. Ethnographical fieldwork was carried out in places as diverse as New Guinea, Madagascar, Romania, Guatemala and Indonesia and there were excavations in the Near East, Egypt, Sudan and the UK. The Weston Gallery of Roman Britain, opened in 1997, displayed a number of recently discovered hoards which demonstrated the richness of what had been considered an unimportant part of the Roman Empire. The museum turned increasingly towards private funds for buildings, acquisitions and other purposes.[42]

The British Museum today

Today the museum no longer houses collections of natural history, and the books and manuscripts it once held now form part of the independent British Library. The museum nevertheless preserves its universality in its collections of artefacts representing the cultures of the world, ancient and modern. The original 1753 collection has grown to over thirteen million objects at the British Museum, 70 million at the Natural History Museum and 150 million at the British Library.

The Round Reading Room, which was designed by the architect Sydney Smirke, opened in 1857. For almost 150 years researchers came here to consult the museum's vast library. The Reading Room closed in 1997 when the national library (the British Library) moved to a new building at St Pancras. Today it has been transformed into the Walter and Leonore Annenberg Centre.

With the bookstacks in the central courtyard of the museum empty, the demolition for Lord Foster's glass-roofed Great Court could begin. The Great Court, opened in 2000, while undoubtedly improving circulation around the museum, was criticised for having a lack of exhibition space at a time when the museum was in serious financial difficulties and many galleries were closed to the public. At the same time the African collections that had been temporarily housed in 6 Burlington Gardens were given a new gallery in the North Wing funded by the Sainsbury family – with the donation valued at £25 million.[43]

As part of its very large website, the museum has the largest online database of objects in the collection of any museum in the world, with 2,000,000 individual object entries, 650,000 of them illustrated, online at the start of 2012.[44] There is also a "Highlights" database with longer entries on over 4,000 objects, and several specialised online research catalogues and online journals (all free to access).[45] In 2013 the museum's website received 19.5 millions visits, an increase of 47% from the previous year.[46]

In 2013 the museum received a record 6.7 million visitors, an increase of 20% from the previous year.[46] Popular exhibitions including "Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum" and "Ice Age Art" are credited with helping fuel the increase in visitors.[47] Plans were announced in September 2014 to recreate the entire building along with all exhibits in the video game Minecraft in conjunction with members of the public.[48]


The British Museum is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport through a three-year funding agreement. Its head is the Director of the British Museum. The British Museum was run from its inception by a 'principal librarian' (when the book collections were still part of the museum), a role that was renamed 'director and principal librarian' in 1898, and 'director' in 1973 (on the separation of the British Library).[49]

A board of 25 trustees (with the director as their accounting officer for the purposes of reporting to Government) is responsible for the general management and control of the museum, in accordance with the British Museum Act 1963 and the Museums and Galleries Act 1992.[50] Prior to the 1963 Act, it was chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lord Chancellor and the Speaker of the House of Commons. The board was formed on the museum's inception to hold its collections in trust for the nation without actually owning them themselves, and now fulfil a mainly advisory role. Trustee appointments are governed by the regulatory framework set out in the code of practice on public appointments issued by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.[51]


British Museum from NE 2 (cropped)
The museum's main entrance

The Greek Revival façade facing Great Russell Street is a characteristic building of Sir Robert Smirke, with 44 columns in the Ionic order 45 ft (14 m) high, closely based on those of the temple of Athena Polias at Priene in Asia Minor. The pediment over the main entrance is decorated by sculptures by Sir Richard Westmacott depicting The Progress of Civilisation, consisting of fifteen allegorical figures, installed in 1852.

The construction commenced around the courtyard with the East Wing (The King's Library) in 1823–1828, followed by the North Wing in 1833–1838, which originally housed among other galleries a reading room, now the Wellcome Gallery. Work was also progressing on the northern half of the West Wing (The Egyptian Sculpture Gallery) 1826–1831, with Montagu House demolished in 1842 to make room for the final part of the West Wing, completed in 1846, and the South Wing with its great colonnade, initiated in 1843 and completed in 1847, when the Front Hall and Great Staircase were opened to the public.[52] The museum is faced with Portland stone, but the perimeter walls and other parts of the building were built using Haytor granite from Dartmoor in South Devon, transported via the unique Haytor Granite Tramway.[53]

BM; 'MF' RM1 - The King's Library, Enlightenment 1 'Discovering the world in the 18th Century ~ View South
The Enlightenment Gallery at museum, which formerly held the King's Library, 2007
BM; Archives - Impression of the proposed extension
Proposed British Museum Extension, 1906
British Museum Great Court roof
The Reading Room and Great Court roof, 2005
BM WCEC July 2015
External view of the World Conservation and Exhibition Centre at the museum, 2015

In 1846 Robert Smirke was replaced as the museum's architect by his brother Sydney Smirke, whose major addition was the Round Reading Room 1854–1857; at 140 feet (43 m) in diameter it was then the second widest dome in the world, the Pantheon in Rome being slightly wider.

The next major addition was the White Wing 1882–1884 added behind the eastern end of the South Front, the architect being Sir John Taylor.

In 1895, Parliament gave the museum trustees a loan of £200,000 to purchase from the Duke of Bedford all 69 houses which backed onto the museum building in the five surrounding streets – Great Russell Street, Montague Street, Montague Place, Bedford Square and Bloomsbury Street.[54] The trustees planned to demolish these houses and to build around the west, north and east sides of the museum new galleries that would completely fill the block on which the museum stands. The architect Sir John James Burnet was petitioned to put forward ambitious long-term plans to extend the building on all three sides. Most of the houses in Montague Place were knocked down a few years after the sale. Of this grand plan only the Edward VII galleries in the centre of the North Front were ever constructed, these were built 1906–14 to the design by J.J. Burnet, and opened by King George V and Queen Mary in 1914. They now house the museum's collections of Prints and Drawings and Oriental Antiquities. There was not enough money to put up more new buildings, and so the houses in the other streets are nearly all still standing.

The Duveen Gallery, sited to the west of the Egyptian, Greek & Assyrian sculpture galleries, was designed to house the Elgin Marbles by the American Beaux-Arts architect John Russell Pope. Although completed in 1938, it was hit by a bomb in 1940 and remained semi-derelict for 22 years, before reopening in 1962. Other areas damaged during World War II bombing included: in September 1940 two unexploded bombs hit the Edward VII galleries, the King's Library received a direct hit from a high explosive bomb, incendiaries fell on the dome of the Round Reading Room but did little damage; on the night of 10 to 11 May 1941 several incendiaries fell on the south-west corner of the museum, destroying the book stack and 150,000 books in the courtyard and the galleries around the top of the Great Staircase – this damage was not fully repaired until the early 1960s.[55]

The Queen Elizabeth II Great Court is a covered square at the centre of the British Museum designed by the engineers Buro Happold and the architects Foster and Partners.[56] The Great Court opened in December 2000 and is the largest covered square in Europe. The roof is a glass and steel construction, built by an Austrian steelwork company,[57] with 1,656 uniquely shaped panes of glass. At the centre of the Great Court is the Reading Room vacated by the British Library, its functions now moved to St Pancras. The Reading Room is open to any member of the public who wishes to read there.

Today, the British Museum has grown to become one of the largest museums in the world, covering an area of over 92,000 m2 (990,000 sq. ft).[3][58] In addition to 21,600 m2 (232,000 sq. ft)[59] of on-site storage space, and 9,400 m2 (101,000 sq. ft)[59] of external storage space. Altogether the British Museum showcases on public display less than 1%[59] of its entire collection, approximately 50,000 items.[60] There are nearly one hundred galleries open to the public, representing 2 miles (3.2 km) of exhibition space, although the less popular ones have restricted opening times. However, the lack of a large temporary exhibition space has led to the £135 million World Conservation and Exhibition Centre to provide one and to concentrate all the museum's conservation facilities into one Conservation Centre. This project was announced in July 2007, with the architects Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners. It was granted planning permission in December 2009 and was completed in time for the Viking exhibition in March 2014.[61][62]

Blythe House in West Kensington is used by the museum for off-site storage of small and medium-sized artefacts, and Franks House in East London is used for storage and work on the "Early Prehistory" – Palaeolithic and Mesolithic – and some other collections.[63]


Department of Egypt and Sudan

The British Museum houses the world's largest[h] and most comprehensive collection of Egyptian antiquities (with over 100,000[64] pieces) outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo. A collection of immense importance for its range and quality, it includes objects of all periods from virtually every site of importance in Egypt and the Sudan. Together, they illustrate every aspect of the cultures of the Nile Valley (including Nubia), from the Predynastic Neolithic period (c. 10,000 BC) through Coptic (Christian) times (12th century AD), and up to the present day, a time-span over 11,000 years. [65]

Egyptian antiquities have formed part of the British Museum collection ever since its foundation in 1753 after receiving 160 Egyptian objects[66] from Sir Hans Sloane. After the defeat of the French forces under Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile in 1801, the Egyptian antiquities collected were confiscated by the British army and presented to the British Museum in 1803. These works, which included the famed Rosetta Stone, were the first important group of large sculptures to be acquired by the museum. Thereafter, the UK appointed Henry Salt as consul in Egypt who amassed a huge collection of antiquities, some of which were assembled and transported with great ingenuity by the famous Italian explorer Giovanni Belzoni. Most of the antiquities Salt collected were purchased by the British Museum and the Musée du Louvre.

By 1866 the collection consisted of some 10,000 objects. Antiquities from excavations started to come to the museum in the latter part of the 19th century as a result of the work of the Egypt Exploration Fund under the efforts of E.A. Wallis Budge. Over the years more than 11,000 objects came from this source, including pieces from Amarna, Bubastis and Deir el-Bahari. Other organisations and individuals also excavated and donated objects to the British Museum, including Flinders Petrie's Egypt Research Account and the British School of Archaeology in Egypt, as well as the Oxford University Expedition to Kawa and Faras in Sudan.

Active support by the museum for excavations in Egypt continued to result in important acquisitions throughout the 20th century until changes in antiquities laws in Egypt led to the suspension of policies allowing finds to be exported, although divisions still continue in Sudan. The British Museum conducted its own excavations in Egypt where it received divisions of finds, including Asyut (1907), Mostagedda and Matmar (1920s), Ashmunein (1980s) and sites in Sudan such as Soba, Kawa and the Northern Dongola Reach (1990s). The size of the Egyptian collections now stand at over 110,000 objects.[67]

In autumn 2001 the eight million objects forming the museum's permanent collection were further expanded by the addition of six million objects from the Wendorf Collection of Egyptian and Sudanese Prehistory.[68] These were donated by Professor Fred Wendorf of Southern Methodist University in Texas, and comprise the entire collection of artefacts and environmental remains from his excavations at Prehistoric sites in the Sahara Desert between 1963 and 1997. Other fieldwork collections have recently come from Dietrich and Rosemarie Klemm (University of Munich) and William Adams (University of Kentucky).

The seven permanent Egyptian galleries at the British Museum, which include its largest exhibition space (Room 4, for monumental sculpture), can display only 4% of its Egyptian holdings. The second-floor galleries have a selection of the museum's collection of 140 mummies and coffins, the largest outside Cairo. A high proportion of the collection comes from tombs or contexts associated with the cult of the dead, and it is these pieces, in particular the mummies, that remain among the most eagerly sought-after exhibits by visitors to the museum.

Key highlights of the collections include:

Room 61 – The famous false fresco 'Pond in a Garden' from the Tomb of Nebamun, c. 1350 BC
Rosetta Stone
Room 4 – The Rosetta Stone, key to the decipherment of Egyptian hieroglyphs, 196 BC

Predynastic and Early Dynastic period (c. 6000 BC – c. 2690 BC)

Old Kingdom (2690–2181 BC)

Middle Kingdom (2134–1690 BC)

  • Inner and outer coffin of Sebekhetepi, Beni Hasan, (about 2125–1795 BC)
  • Limestone stela of Heqaib, Abydos, Egypt, 12th Dynasty, (1990–1750 BC)
  • Block statue and stela of Sahathor, 12th Dynasty, reign of Amenemhat II, (about 1922–1878 BC)

New Kingdom (1549–1069 BC)

Third Intermediate Period (1069–664 BC)

  • Mummy case and coffin of Nesperennub, Thebes, (c.800 BC)
  • Statue of Amun in the form of a ram protecting King Taharqa, (683 BC)
  • Inner and outer coffins of the priest Hor, Deir el-Bahari, Thebes, 25th Dynasty, (about 680 BC)

Late Period (664–332 BC)

  • Saite Sarcophagus of Satsobek, the vizier (prime minister) of the northern part of Egypt in the reign of Psammetichus I, (664–610 BC)
  • Bronze figure of Isis and Horus, North Saqqara, Egypt, (600 BC)
  • Obelisks and sarcophagus of Pharaoh Nectanebo II, (360–343 BC)

Ptolemaic dynasty (305–30 BC)

  • The famous Rosetta Stone, trilingual stela that unlocked the ancient Egyptian civilisation, (196 BC)
  • Giant sculpture of a scarab beetle, (32–30 BC)
  • Mummy of Hornedjitef (inner coffin), Thebes, (3rd century BC)

Roman Period (30 BC-641 AD)

  • The Meriotic Hamadab Stela from the Kingdom of Kush found near the ancient site of Meroë in Sudan, 24 BC
  • Lid of the coffin of Soter and Cleopatra from Qurna, Thebes, (early 2nd century AD)
  • Mummy of a youth with a portrait of the deceased, Hawara, (100–200 AD)

Room 64 - Egyptian grave containing a Gebelein predynastic mummy, late predynastic, 3400 BC

London - British Museum - 2273

Room 4 – Three black granite statues of the pharaoh Senusret III, c. 1850 BC


Room 4 – Three black granite statues of the goddess Sakhmet, c. 1400 BC

British Museum Egypt 086

Room 4 – Colossal statue of Amenhotep III, c. 1370 BC

Quartzite head of Amenhotep III

Great Court – Colossal quartzite statue of Amenhotep III, c. 1350 BC

Egyptian Couple BM (1)

Room 4 - Limestone statue of a husband and wife, 1300-1250 BC

P1050700 (5022075232)

Room 63 - Gilded outer coffins from the tomb of Henutmehyt, Thebes, Egypt, 19th Dynasty, 1250 BC

Book of the Dead of Hunefer sheet 5

Book of the Dead of Hunefer, sheet 5, 19th Dynasty, 1250 BC

British Museum Egypt 101

Room 4 - Ancient Egyptian bronze statue of a cat from the Late Period, about 664–332 BC

British Museum Egypt 107

Room 4 - Green siltstone head of a Pharaoh, 26th-30th Dynasty, 600-340 BC

Nectanebo II obelisk

Great Court - Black siltstone obelisk of King Nectanebo II of Egypt, Thirtieth dynasty, about 350 BC


Room 62 - Detail from the mummy case of Artemidorus the Younger, a Greek who had settled in Thebes, Egypt, during Roman times, 100-200 AD

Department of Greece and Rome

Flickr - Nic's events - British Museum with Cory and Mary, 6 Sep 2007 - 167
Room 17 – Reconstruction of the Nereid Monument, c. 390 BC
Elgin Marbles British Museum
Room 18 – Parthenon marbles from the Acropolis of Athens, 447 BC
BM, GMR - RM21, Mausoleum of Halikarnassos
Room 21 – Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, mid-4th century BC

The British Museum has one of the world's largest and most comprehensive collections of antiquities from the Classical world, with over 100,000 objects. These mostly range in date from the beginning of the Greek Bronze Age (about 3200 BC) to the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire, with the Edict of Milan under the reign of the Roman Emperor Constantine I in 313 AD. Archaeology was in its infancy during the nineteenth century and many pioneering individuals began excavating sites across the Classical world, chief among them for the museum were Charles Newton, John Turtle Wood, Robert Murdoch Smith and Charles Fellows.

The Greek objects originate from across the Ancient Greek world, from the mainland of Greece and the Aegean Islands, to neighbouring lands in Asia Minor and Egypt in the eastern Mediterranean and as far as the western lands of Magna Graecia that include Sicily and southern Italy. The Cycladic, Minoan and Mycenaean cultures are represented, and the Greek collection includes important sculpture from the Parthenon in Athens, as well as elements of two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesos.

Beginning from the early Bronze Age, the department also houses one of the widest-ranging collections of Italic and Etruscan antiquities outside Italy, as well as extensive groups of material from Cyprus and non-Greek colonies in Lycia and Caria on Asia Minor. There is some material from the Roman Republic, but the collection's strength is in its comprehensive array of objects from across the Roman Empire, with the exception of Britain (which is the mainstay of the Department of Prehistory and Europe).

The collections of ancient jewellery and bronzes, Greek vases (many from graves in southern Italy that were once part of Sir William Hamilton's and Chevalier Durand's collections), Roman glass including the famous Cameo glass Portland Vase, Roman mosaics from Carthage and Utica in North Africa that were excavated by Nathan Davis, and silver hoards from Roman Gaul (some of which were bequeathed by the philanthropist and museum trustee Richard Payne Knight), are particularly important. Cypriot antiquities are strong too and have benefited from the purchase of Sir Robert Hamilton Lang's collection as well as the bequest of Emma Turner in 1892, which funded many excavations on the island. Roman sculptures (many of which are copies of Greek originals) are particularly well represented by the Townley collection as well as residual sculptures from the famous Farnese collection.

Objects from the Department of Greece and Rome are located throughout the museum, although many of the architectural monuments are to be found on the ground floor, with connecting galleries from Gallery 5 to Gallery 23. On the upper floor, there are galleries devoted to smaller material from ancient Italy, Greece, Cyprus and the Roman Empire.

Key highlights of the collections include:



  • A surviving column, (420–415 BC)
  • One of six remaining Caryatids, (415 BC)

Temple of Athena Nike

  • Surviving frieze slabs, (427–424 BC)

Temple of Bassae

  • Twenty-three surviving blocks of the frieze from the interior of the temple, (420–400 BC)

Mausoleum at Halicarnassus

  • Two colossal free-standing figures identified as Maussollos and his wife Artemisia, (c. 350 BC)
  • Part of an impressive horse from the chariot group adorning the summit of the Mausoleum, (c. 350 BC)
  • The Amazonomachy frieze – A long section of relief frieze showing the battle between Greeks and Amazons, (c. 350 BC)

Temple of Artemis in Ephesus

  • One of the sculptured column bases, (340–320 BC)
  • Part of the Ionic frieze situated above the colonnade, (330–300 BC)

Knidos in Asia Minor

Xanthos in Asia Minor

  • Lion Tomb, (550–500 BC)
  • Harpy Tomb, (480–470 BC)
  • Nereid Monument, partial reconstruction of a large and elaborate Lykian tomb, (390–380 BC)
  • Tomb of Merehi, (390–350 BC)
  • Tomb of Payava, (375–350 BC)

Wider collection

Prehistoric Greece and Italy (3300 BC – 8th century BC)

Etruscan (8th century BC – 1st century BC)

Ancient Greece (8th century BC – 4th century AD)

Ancient Rome (1st century BC – 4th century AD)

Aegina treasure 01

Room 12 – A gold earring from the Aegina Treasure, Greece, 1700-1500 BC

BM; RM18 - GR, The Parthenon Galleries 1 Temple of Athena Parthenos (447-438 B.C) + North Slip Room, -Full Elevation & Viewing North-

Room 18 – Parthenon statuary from the east pediment and Metopes from the south wall, Athens, Greece, 447-438 BC

BM, GNR; The Acropolis & The late 5th C BC ~ Erechtheum Caryatid + Ionic Column (Room 19)

Room 19 – Caryatid and Ionian column from the Erechtheion, Acropolis of Athens, Greece, 420-415 BC

Tomb of Payava 2

Room 20 – Tomb of Payava, Lycia, Turkey, 360 BC

Fragmentary horse from the colossal four-horses chariot group which topped the podium of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, British Museum (8245662728)

Room 21 – Fragmentary horse from the colossal chariot group which topped the podium of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, Turkey, c. 350 BC

Gold wreath BM 1908.4-14.1

Room 22 - Gold oak wreath with a bee and two cicadas, western Turkey, c. 350-300 BC

Column drum Ephesus

Room 22 – Column from the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, Turkey, early 4th century BC

Asklepios Melos BM Sc550

Room 22 - Colossal head of Asclepius wearing a metal crown (now lost), from a cult statue on Melos, Greece, 325-300 BC

SFEC BritMus Roman 011

Room 1 - Farnese Hermes in the Enlightenment Gallery, Italy, 1st century AD


Room 69 - Roman gladiator helmet from Pompeii, Italy, 1st century AD

Lely Venus BM 1963

Room 23 - The famous version of the 'Crouching Venus', Roman, c. 1st century AD

Spinario-British Museum

Room 22 – Roman marble copy of the famous 'Spinario (Boy with Thorn)', Italy, c. 1st century AD

Apollo Kitharoidos BM 1380

Room 22 – Apollo of Cyrene (holding a lyre), Libya, c. 2nd century AD

Department of the Middle East

BM; RM7 - ANE, Nineveh Palace Reliefs Southwest Palace of Sennacherib (701-681 B.C) ~ Full Elevation + Viewing South.4
Room 9 – Assyrian palace reliefs, Nineveh, 701–681 BC

With a collection numbering some 330,000 works,[70] the British Museum possesses the world's largest and most important collection of Mesopotamian antiquities outside Iraq. A collection of immense importance, the holdings of Assyrian sculpture, Babylonian and Sumerian antiquities are among the most comprehensive in the world with entire suites of rooms panelled in alabaster Assyrian palace reliefs from Nimrud, Nineveh and Khorsabad.

The collections represent the civilisations of the ancient Near East and its adjacent areas. These cover Mesopotamia, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, Anatolia, the Caucasus, parts of Central Asia, Syria, the Holy Land and Phoenician settlements in the western Mediterranean from the prehistoric period and include objects from the beginning of Islam in the 7th century.

The first significant addition of Mesopotamian objects was from the collection of Claudius James Rich in 1825. The collection was later dramatically enlarged by the excavations of A. H. Layard at the Assyrian sites of Nimrud and Nineveh between 1845 and 1851. At Nimrud, Layard discovered the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II, as well as three other palaces and various temples. He later uncovered the Palace of Sennacherib at Nineveh with 'no less than seventy-one halls'. As a result, a large numbers of Lamassu's, palace reliefs, stelae, including the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, were brought to the British Museum.

BM; RM6 - ANE, Assyrian Sculpture 14 West Wall (M + N) ~ Assyrian Empire + Lamassu, Gates at Balawat, Relief Panel's & Full Projection.3
Room 6 – Pair of Human Headed Winged Lions and reliefs from Nimrud with the Balawat Gates, c. 860 BC
London 307
Room 52 – Ancient Iran with the Cyrus Cylinder, considered to be the world's first charter of human rights, 559–530 BC

Layard's work was continued by his assistant, Hormuzd Rassam and in 1852–1854 he went on to discover the North Palace of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh with many magnificent reliefs, including the famous Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal and Lachish reliefs. He also discovered the Royal Library of Ashurbanipal, a large collection of cuneiform tablets of enormous importance that today number around 130,000 pieces. W. K. Loftus excavated in Nimrud between 1850 and 1855 and found a remarkable hoard of ivories in the Burnt Palace. Between 1878 and 1882 Rassam greatly improved the museum's holdings with exquisite objects including the Cyrus Cylinder from Babylon, the bronze gates from Balawat, important objects from Sippar, and a fine collection of Urartian bronzes from Toprakkale.

In the early 20th century excavations were carried out at Carchemish, Turkey by D. G. Hogarth and Leonard Woolley, the latter assisted by T. E. Lawrence. The Mesopotamian collections were greatly augmented by excavations in southern Iraq after the First World War. From Tell al-Ubaid came the bronze furnishings of a Sumerian temple, including life-sized lions and a panel featuring the lion-headed eagle Indugud found by H. R. Hall in 1919–24. Woolley went on to excavate Ur between 1922 and 1934, discovering the 'Royal Cemeteries' of the 3rd millennium BC. Some of the masterpieces include the 'Standard of Ur', the 'Ram in a Thicket', the 'Royal Game of Ur', and two bull-headed lyres. The department also has three diorite statues of the ruler Gudea from the ancient state of Lagash and a series of limestone kudurru or boundary stones from different locations across ancient Mesopotamia.

Although the collections centre on Mesopotamia, most of the surrounding areas are well represented. The Achaemenid collection was enhanced with the addition of the Oxus Treasure in 1897 and objects excavated by the German scholar Ernst Herzfeld and the Hungarian-British explorer Sir Aurel Stein. Reliefs and sculptures from the site of Persepolis were donated by Sir Gore Ouseley in 1825 and the 5th Earl of Aberdeen in 1861. Moreover, the museum has been able to acquire one of the greatest assemblages of Achaemenid silverware in the world. The later Sasanian Empire is also well represented by ornate silver plates and cups, many representing ruling monarchs hunting lions and deer. Phoenician antiquities come from across the region, but the Tharros collection from Sardinia and the large number of Phoenician stelae from Carthage are outstanding. Another often overlooked highlight is Yemeni antiquities, the finest collection outside that country. Furthermore, the museum has a representative collection of Dilmun and Parthian material excavated from various burial mounds at the ancient sites of A'ali and Shakhura in Bahrain.

From the modern state of Syria come almost forty funerary busts from Palmyra and a group of stone reliefs from the excavations of Max von Oppenheim at Tell Halaf that was purchased in 1920. More material followed from the excavations of Max Mallowan at Chagar Bazar and Tell Brak in 1935–1938 and from Woolley at Alalakh in the years just before and after the Second World War. Mallowan returned with his wife Agatha Christie to carry out further digs at Nimrud in the postwar period which secured many important artefacts for the museum. The collection of Palestinian material was strengthened by the work of Kathleen Kenyon at Jericho in the 1950s and the acquisition in 1980 of around 17,000 objects found at Lachish by the Wellcome-Marston expedition of 1932–1938. Archaeological digs are still taking place where permitted in the Middle East, and, depending on the country, the museum continues to receive a share of the finds from sites such as Tell es Sa'idiyeh in Jordan.

The museum's collection of Islamic art, including archaeological material, numbers about 40,000 objects,[71] one of the largest of its kind in the world. As such, it contains a broad range of pottery, paintings, tiles, metalwork, glass, seals, and inscriptions from across the Islamic world, from Spain in the west to India in the east. It is particularly famous for its collection of Iznik ceramics (the largest in the world), a highlight of which is the mosque lamp from the Dome of the Rock, mediaeval metalwork such as the Vaso Vescovali with its depictions of the Zodiac, a fine selection of astrolabes, and Mughal paintings and precious artwork including a large jade terrapin made for the Emperor Jahangir. Thousands of objects were excavated after the war by professional archaeologists at Iranian sites such as Siraf by David Whitehouse and Alamut Castle by Peter Willey. The collection was augmented in 1983 by the Godman bequest of Iznik, Hispano-Moresque and early Iranian pottery. Artefacts from the Islamic world are on display in Gallery 34 of the museum.

A representative selection from the Department of Middle East, including the most important pieces, are on display in 13 galleries throughout the museum and total some 4,500 objects. A whole suite of rooms on the ground floor display the sculptured reliefs from the Assyrian palaces at Nineveh, Nimrud and Khorsabad, while 8 galleries on the upper floor hold smaller material from ancient sites across the Middle East. The remainder form the study collection which ranges in size from beads to large sculptures. They include approximately 130,000 cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia.[72]

Key highlights of the collections include:


Assyrian palace reliefs from:

  • The North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II, (883–859 BC)
  • Palace of Adad-nirari III, (811–783 BC)
  • The Sharrat-Niphi Temple, (c. 9th century BC)
  • Temple of Ninurta, (c. 9th century BC)
  • South-East Palace ('Burnt Palace'), (8th–7th century BC)
  • Central- Palace of Tiglath-Pileser III, (745–727 BC)
  • South-West Palace of Esarhaddon, (681–669 BC)
  • The Nabu Temple (Ezida), (c. 7th century BC)



Assyrian palace reliefs and sculptures from:

Royal Library of Ashurbanipal:

Khorsabad and Balawat:
Wider collection:

Room 56 – The 'Ram in a Thicket' figure, one of a pair, from Ur, Southern Iraq, c. 2600 BC

Standard of Ur - War

Room 56 – The famous 'Standard of Ur', a hollow wooden box with scenes of war and peace, from Ur, c. 2600 BC


Room 56 - Sculpture of the god Imdugud, lion-headed eagle surmounting a lintel made from sheets of copper, Temple of Ninhursag at Tell al-'Ubaid, Iraq, c. 2500 BC

Statue Kurlil BM WA114207

Room 56 - Statue of Kurlil, from the Temple of Ninhursag in Tell al-'Ubaid, southern Iraq, c. 2500 BC

Ishtar goddess

Room 56 – The famous Babylonian 'Queen of the Night relief' of the goddess Ishtar, Iraq, c. 1790 BC

Carved ivory depicting a woman at a window

Room 57 - Carved ivory object from the Nimrud Ivories, Phoenician, Nimrud, Iraq, 9th–8th century BC


Room 6 – Depiction of the hypocrite, Jehu, King of Israel on the Black Obelisk of Shalmaneser III, Nimrud, c. 827 BC

Winged Human-headed Bulls

Room 10 – Human Headed Winged Bulls from Khorsabad, companion pieces in the Musée du Louvre, Iraq, 710–705 BC

BM; ANE - RM 55, Cuneiform Tablets Display.1

Room 55 – Cuneiform Collection, including the Epic of Gilgamesh, Iraq, c. 669-631 BC

Dying Lion.R

Room 55 – Lion Hunt of Ashurbanipal (detail), Nineveh, Neo-Assyrian, Iraq, c. 645 BC


Room 55 - Panel with striding lion made from glazed bricks, Neo-Babylonian, Nebuchadnezzar II, Southern Iraq, 604–562 BC

Oxus chariot model

Room 52 – A chariot from the Oxus Treasure, the most important surviving collection of Achaemenid Persian metalwork, c. 5th to 4th centuries BC


Room 53 - Stela said to come from Tamma' cemetery, Yemen, 1st century AD

British Museum Yemen 07d

Room 53 - Alabaster statue of a standing female figure, Yemen, 1st-2nd centuries AD

Brass box BM 1878 12-30 674

Room 34 - Cylindrical lidded box with an Arabic inscription recording its manufacture for the ruler of Mosul, Badr al-Din Lu'lu', Iraq, c. 1233 – 1259 AD

Department of Prints and Drawings

The Department of Prints and Drawings holds the national collection of Western prints and drawings. It ranks as one of the largest and best print room collections in existence alongside the Albertina in Vienna, the Paris collections and the Hermitage. The holdings are easily accessible to the general public in the Study Room, unlike many such collections.[73] The department also has its own exhibition gallery in Room 90, where the displays and exhibitions change several times a year.[74]

Since its foundation in 1808, the prints and drawings collection has grown to international renown as one of the richest and most representative collections in the world. There are approximately 50,000 drawings and over two million prints.[74] The collection of drawings covers the period from the 14th century to the present, and includes many works of the highest quality by the leading artists of the European schools. The collection of prints covers the tradition of fine printmaking from its beginnings in the 15th century up to the present, with near complete holdings of most of the great names before the 19th century. Key benefactors to the department have been Clayton Mordaunt Cracherode, Richard Payne Knight, John Malcolm, Campbell Dodgson, César Mange de Hauke and Tomás Harris.

There are groups of drawings by Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael, Michelangelo, (including his only surviving full-scale cartoon), Dürer (a collection of 138 drawings is one of the finest in existence), Peter Paul Rubens, Rembrandt, Claude and Watteau, and largely complete collections of the works of all the great printmakers including Dürer (99 engravings, 6 etchings and most of his 346 woodcuts), Rembrandt and Goya. More than 30,000 British drawings and watercolours include important examples of work by Hogarth, Sandby, Turner, Girtin, Constable, Cotman, Cox, Gillray, Rowlandson and Cruikshank, as well as all the great Victorians. There are about a million British prints including more than 20,000 satires and outstanding collections of works by William Blake and Thomas Bewick.. The great eleven volume Catalogue of Political and Personal Satires Preserved in the Department of Prints and Drawings in the British Museum compiled between 1870 and 1954 is the definitive reference work for the study of British Satirical prints. Over 500,000 objects from the department are now on the online collection database, many with high quality images.[75] A 2011 donation of £1 million enabled the museum to acquire a complete set of Pablo Picasso's Vollard Suite.[76]

Rogier van der Weyden - Portrait of a Young Woman - WGA25729

Rogier van der Weyden - Portrait of a Young Woman, c. 1440

A fool, seated on a basket, about to be shaved by a nun holding a wafer iron by Hieronymus Bosch

Hieronymus Bosch - A comical barber scene, c. 1477-1516

Botticelli, allegoria dell'abbondanza, disegno

Sandro Botticelli - Allegory of Abundance, 1480-1485

Leonardo da vinci, Study for the Burlington House Cartoon

Leonardo da Vinci – The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and the Infant Saint John the Baptist (prep for 'The Burlington House Cartoon'), c. 1499–1500

Adam study - Michelangelo

Michelangelo – Studies of a reclining male nude: Adam in the fresco 'The Creation of Man' on the vault of the Sistine Chapel, c. 1511

Raffaello, studio di testa di madonna e bambino

Raphael – Study of Heads, Mother and Child, c. 1509-11

Albrecht Dürer - Walrus - WGA07101

Albrecht Dürer - Drawing of a walrus, 1521

A Lady, called Anne Boleyn, by Hans Holbein the Younger

Hans Holbein the Younger - Portrait of Anne Boleyn, 1536

Peter Paul Rubens 077

Peter Paul Rubens - Drawing of a lioness, c. 1614-1615

Head of a monk, 1625-64, Francisco de Zurbarán. Drawing, 277 x 196 mm. British Museum

Francisco de Zurbarán - Head of a monk, 1625–64

Drawing of mules by Claude Lorrain

Claude Lorrain - Drawing of mules, including one full-length, 1630-1640

A woman with a rose drawn by Thomas Gainsborough

Thomas Gainsborough - Drawing of a woman with a rose, 1763-1765

Newport Castle by JMW Turner

JMW Turner - Watercolour of Newport Castle, 1796

The happy effects of that grand systom of shutting ports against the English!!

Isaac Cruikshank - 'The happy effects of that grand system of shutting ports against the English!!', 1808

Hampstead Heath by John Constable watercolour

John Constable - London from Hampstead Heath in a Storm, (watercolour), 1831

Notes Nocturne lithograph by James McNeill Whistler 1878

James McNeill Whistler - View of the Battersea side of Chelsea Reach, London, (lithograph), 1878

Van Gogh - In the Orchard - 1883

Vincent Van Gogh - Man Digging in the Orchard (print), 1883

Department of Britain, Europe and Prehistory

Waddesdon Bequest (2)
Display case of Renaissance metalware from the Waddesdon Bequest

The Department of Britain, Europe and Prehistory is responsible for collections that cover a vast expanse of time and geography. It includes some of the earliest objects made by humans in east Africa over 2 million years ago, as well as Prehistoric and neolithic objects from other parts of the world; and the art and archaeology of Europe from the earliest times to the present day. Archeological excavation of prehistoric material took off and expanded considerably in the twentieth century and the department now has literally millions of objects from the Paleolithic and Mesolithic periods throughout the world, as well as from the Neolithic, Bronze Age and Iron age in Europe. Stone Age material from Africa has been donated by famous archaeologists such as Louis and Mary Leakey, and Gertrude Caton–Thompson. Paleolithic objects from the Sturge, Christy and Lartet collections include some of the earliest works of art from Europe. Many Bronze Age objects from across Europe were added during the nineteenth century, often from large collections built up by excavators and scholars such as Greenwell in Britain, Tobin and Cooke in Ireland, Lukis and de la Grancière in Brittany, Worsaae in Denmark, Siret at El Argar in Spain, and Klemm and Edelmann in Germany. A representative selection of Iron Age artefacts from Hallstatt were acquired as a result of the Evans/Lubbock excavations and from Giubiasco in Ticino through the Swiss National Museum.

In addition, the British Museum's collections covering the period AD 300 to 1100 are among the largest and most comprehensive in the world, extending from Spain to the Black Sea and from North Africa to Scandinavia; a representative selection of these has recently been redisplayed in a newly refurbished gallery. Important collections include Latvian, Norwegian, Gotlandic and Merovingian material from Johann Karl Bähr, Alfred Heneage Cocks, Sir James Curle and Philippe Delamain respectively. However, the undoubted highlight from the early mediaeval period are the magnificent items from the Sutton Hoo royal grave, generously donated to the nation by the landowner Edith Pretty. The department includes the national collection of horology with one of the most wide-ranging assemblage of clocks, watches and other timepieces in Europe, with masterpieces from every period in the development of time-keeping. Choice horological pieces came from the Morgan and Ilbert collections. The department is also responsible for the curation of Romano-British objects – the museum has by far the most extensive such collection in Britain and one of the most representative regional collections in Europe outside Italy. It is particularly famous for the large number of late Roman silver treasures, many of which were found in East Anglia, the most important of which is the Mildenhall Treasure. The museum purchased many Roman-British objects from the antiquarian Charles Roach Smith in 1856. These quickly formed the nucleus of the collection.

Objects from the Department of Prehistory and Europe are mostly found on the upper floor of the museum, with a suite of galleries numbered from 38 to 51. Most of the collection is stored in its archive facilities, where it is available for research and study.

Key highlights of the collections include:

Stone Age (c. 3.4 million years BC – c. 2000 BC)

Bronze Age (c. 3300 BC – c. 600 BC)

Iron Age (c. 600 BC – c. 1st century AD)

Romano-British (43 AD – 410 AD)

  • Tombstone of Roman procurator Gaius Julius Alpinus Classicianus from London, (1st century AD)
  • Ribchester, Guisborough and Witcham helmets once worn by Roman cavalry in Britain, (1st–2nd centuries AD)
  • Elaborate gold bracelets and ring found near Rhayader, central Wales, (1st–2nd centuries AD)
  • Bronze heads of the Roman Emperors Hadrian and Claudius, found in London and Suffolk, (1st–2nd centuries AD)
  • Vindolanda Tablets, important historical documents found near Hadrian's Wall in Northumberland, (1st–2nd centuries AD)
  • Wall-paintings and sculptures from the Roman Villa at Lullingstone, Kent, south east England,1st–4th centuries AD)
  • Capheaton and Backworth treasures, remnants of two important hoards from northern England, (2nd–3rd centuries AD)
  • Stony Stratford Hoard of copper headdresses, fibulae and silver votive plaques, central England, (3rd century AD)
  • Gold jewellery deposited at the site of Newgrange, Ireland, (4th century AD)
  • Thetford Hoard, late Roman jewellery from eastern England, (4th century AD)

Early Mediaeval (c. 4th century AD – c. 1000 AD)

Mediaeval (c. 1000 AD – c. 1500 AD)

Renaissance to Modern (c. 1500 AD – present)

The many hoards of treasure include those of Mildenhall, Esquiline, Carthage, First Cyprus, Lampsacus, Water Newton, Hoxne, and Vale of York (4th–10th centuries AD).

British Museum Olduvai handaxe

Room 2 – Handaxe, Lower Palaeolithic, Olduvai Gorge, Tanzania, c. 1.2 million years BC

Sleeping Reindeer 4512630872 d31dcb1207 o

Room 3 – Swimming Reindeer carving, France, c. 13,000 years BC[78]

Lovers 9000BC british museum

Room 2 – Ain Sakhri lovers, from the cave of Ain Sakhri, near Bethlehem, c. 9000 BC[79]

British Museum gold thing 501594 fh000035

Room 51 – Mold gold cape, North Wales, Bronze Age, c. 1900–1600 BC

Wandsworth Shield

Room 50 - Wandsworth Shield, Iron Age shield boss in La Tène style, England, 2nd century BC


Room 50 - Gold torc found in Needwood Forest, central England, 75 BC

Roman emperor head

Room 49 - Bronze head of a Roman Emperor Claudius, from Rendham in Suffolk, eastern England, 1st century AD

Mosaic2 - plw

Room 49 – Hinton St Mary Mosaic with face of Christ in the centre, from Dorset, southern England, 4th century AD

Corbridge lanx

Room 49 - Corbridge Lanx, silver tray depicting a shrine to Apollo, northern England, 4th century AD

British Museum Coleraine Hoard

Room 41 - Silver objects from the Roman Coleraine Hoard, Northern Ireland, 4th-5th centuries AD

Sutton Hoo helmet 2016

Room 41 – Sutton Hoo helmet, Anglo-Saxon, England, early 7th century AD

Virgin and Child BM PE1978-05.02-3

Room 40 - Ivory statue of Virgin and Child, who is crushing a dragon under her left foot from Paris, France, 1310-1330 AD

Chaucer Astrolabe BM 1909.6-17.1

Room 40 - Chaucer Astrolabe, the oldest dated in Europe, 1326 AD

British Museum Royal Gold Cup

Room 40 – Royal Gold Cup or Saint Agnes Cup, made in Paris, France, 1370–80 AD

Front View of Thorn Reliquary

Room 45 – Holy Thorn Reliquary, made in Paris, c. 1390s AD

Ship Clock at British Museum

Room 38 – Mechanical Galleon clock, Augsburg, Germany, around 1585 AD

Carillon Clock with Automata, by Isaac Habrecht - British Museum

Room 38 - Carillon clock with automata by Isaac Habrecht, Switzerland, 1589 AD

Inside the British Museum, London - DSC04228

Room 39 - Ornate clock made by Thomas Tompion, England, 1690 AD

Department of Asia

Room 95-6752
Room 95 – The Sir Percival David collection of Chinese ceramics

The scope of the Department of Asia is extremely broad; its collections of over 75,000 objects cover the material culture of the whole Asian continent (from East, South, Central and South-East Asia) and from the Neolithic up to the present day. Until recently, this department concentrated on collecting Oriental antiquities from urban or semi-urban societies across the Asian continent. Many of those objects were collected by colonial officers and explorers in former parts of the British Empire, especially the Indian subcontinent. Examples include the collections made by individuals such as Charles Stuart, James Prinsep, Charles Masson, Sir Alexander Cunningham, Sir Harold Deane and Sir John Marshall. A large number of Chinese antiquities were purchased from the Anglo-Greek banker George Eumorfopoulos in the 1930s. In the second half of the twentieth century, the museum greatly benefited from the bequest of the philanthropist PT Brooke Sewell, which allowed the department to purchase many objects and fill in gaps in the collection.[80][81][82]

In 2004, the ethnographic collections from Asia were transferred to the department. These reflect the diverse environment of the largest continent in the world and range from India to China, the Middle East to Japan. Much of the ethnographic material comes from objects originally owned by tribal cultures and hunter-gatherers, many of whose way of life has disappeared in the last century. Particularly valuable collections are from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands (much assembled by the British naval officer Maurice Portman), Sri Lanka (especially through the colonial administrator Hugh Nevill), Northern Thailand, south-west China, the Ainu of Hokaidu in Japan (chief among them the collection of the Scottish zoologist John Anderson), Siberia and the islands of South-East Asia, especially Borneo. The latter benefited from the purchase in 1905 of the Sarawak collection put together by Dr Charles Hose, as well as from other colonial officers such as Edward A Jeffreys. In addition, a unique and valuable group of objects from Java, including shadow puppets and a gamelan musical set, was assembled by Sir Stamford Raffles.

The principal gallery devoted to Asian art in the museum is Gallery 33 with its comprehensive display of Chinese, Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asian objects. An adjacent gallery showcases the Amaravati sculptures and monuments. Other galleries on the upper floors are devoted to its Japanese, Korean, painting and calligraphy, and Chinese ceramics collections.

Key highlights of the collections include:[83]

  • The most comprehensive collection of sculpture from the Indian subcontinent in the world, including the celebrated Buddhist limestone reliefs from Amaravati excavated by Sir Walter Elliot[84]
  • An outstanding collection of Chinese antiquities, paintings, and porcelain, lacquer, bronze, jade, and other applied arts
  • The most comprehensive collection of Japanese pre-20th century art in the Western world, many of which originally belonged to the surgeon William Anderson and diplomat Ernest Mason Satow

East Asia

South Asia

South-east Asia

  • Earthenware tazza from the Phùng Nguyên culture, northern Vietnam, (2000–1500 BC)
  • Pottery vessels and sherds from the ancient site of Ban Chiang, Thailand, (10th–1st centuries BC)
  • Bronze bell from Klang, Malaysia, (2nd century BC)
  • Group of six Buddhist clay votive plaques found in a cave in Patania, Penang, Malaysia (6th–11th centuries AD)
  • The famous Sambas Treasure of buddhist gold and silver figures from west Borneo, Indonesia, (8th–9th centuries AD)
  • Two stone Buddha heads from the temple at Borobodur in Java, Indonesia, (9th century AD)
  • Sandstone Champa figure of a rampant lion, Vietnam, (11th century AD)
  • Stone figure representing the upper part of an eleven-headed Avalokiteśvara, Cambodia, (12th century AD)
  • Bronze figure of a seated Buddha from Bagan, Burma, (12th–13th centuries AD)
  • Hoard of Southern Song dynasty ceramic vessels excavated at Pinagbayanan, Taysan Municipality, Philippines, (12th–13th centuries AD)
  • Statue of the Goddess Mamaki from Candi Jago, eastern Java, Indonesia, (13th–14th centuries AD)
  • Inscribed bronze figure of a Buddha from Fang District, part of a large SE Asian collection amassed by the Norwegian explorer Carl Bock, Thailand, (1540 AD)
Periodo degli zhou dell'est, coppia di vasi rituali hu. V sec. ac. 01

Room 33 - One of the hu from Huixian, China, 5th century BC


Room 33 - A hamsa sacred goose vessel made of crystal from Stupa 32, Taxila, Pakistan, 1st century AD

Death of the Buddha BM

Room 33 - Stone sculpture of the death of Buddha, Gandhara, Pakistan, 1st-3rd centuries AD

BrMus Amravati

Room 33a - Amaravati Sculptures, southern India, 1st century BC and 3rd century AD

Ku K'ai-chih 001

Room 91a - Section of the Admonitions Scroll by Chinese artist Gu Kaizhi, China, c. 380 AD

Seated Buddha BM OA1969.7-25.1

Room 33 - Gilded bronze statue of the Buddha, Dhaneswar Khera, India, 5th century AD

Amitabha BM OA 1938.7-15.1

The Amitābha Buddha from Hancui on display in the museum's stairwell, China, 6th century AD

Luóhàn at British Museum

Room 33 - The luohan from Yixian made of glazed stoneware, China, 907-1125 AD

Goddess Ambika from Dhar

Sculpture of Goddess Ambika found at Dhar, India, 1034 AD


Sculpture of the two Jain tirthankaras Rishabhanatha and Mahavira, Orissa, India, 11th-12th century AD

British Museum Kang Hou Gui Top

Room 33 - Western Zhou bronze ritual vessel known as the "Kang Hou Gui", China, 11th century BC

Seated Avalokiteshvara BM OA 1985.5-11.1

Room 33 - A crowned figure of the Bodhisattva Khasarpana Avalokiteśvara, India, 12th century AD

British Museum Asia 2 (cropped)

Room 33 - Covered hanging jar with underglaze decoration, Si Satchanalai (Sawankalok), north-central Thailand, 14th-16th centuries AD

Hu-shaped altar vessel BM 1989.0309.1

Room 33 - Hu-shaped altar flower vessel, Ming dynasty, China, 15th -16th centuries AD

Judge assistant hell BM OA1917.11-16.1 n02

Room 33 - An assistant to the Judge of Hell, figure from a judgement group, Ming dynasty, China, 16th century AD

British Museum Asia 41-2

Room 33 - Statue of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, gilded bronze. Nepal, 16th century AD

Indischer Maler um 1615 (I) 001

Portrait of Ibrâhîm 'Âdil Shâh II (1580–1626), Mughal Empire of India, 1615 AD

Utagawa Toyoharu (attributed to), Courtesans of the Tamaya House

Room 90 - Courtesans of the Tamaya House, attributed to Utagawa Toyoharu, screen painting; Japan, Edo period, late 1770s or early 1780s AD

SFEC BritMus Asia 027

Room 33 - Statue of Buddha from Burma, 18th-19th century AD


Room 33 - Figure of seated Lama; of painted and varnished papier-mâché, Ladakh, Tibet, 19th century AD

Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas

Wellcome Trust Gallery + Living & Dying (Room 24)
Room 24 – The Wellcome Trust Gallery of Living and Dying, with Hoa Hakananai'a, a moai, in the centre

The British Museum houses one of the world's most comprehensive collections of Ethnographic material from Africa, Oceania and the Americas, representing the cultures of indigenous peoples throughout the world. Over 350,000 objects[85] spanning thousands of years tells the history of mankind from three major continents and many rich and diverse cultures; the collecting of modern artefacts is ongoing. Many individuals have added to the department's collection over the years but those assembled by Henry Christy, Harry Beasley and William Oldman are outstanding. Objects from this department are mostly on display in several galleries on the ground and lower floors. Gallery 24 displays ethnographic from every continent while adjacent galleries focus on North America and Mexico. A long suite of rooms (Gallery 25) on the lower floor display African art. There are plans in place to develop permanent galleries for showcasing art from Oceania and South America.


African throwing knives
Room 25 – Collection of African throwing knives

The Sainsbury African Galleries display 600 objects from the greatest permanent collection of African arts and culture in the world. The three permanent galleries provide a substantial exhibition space for the museum's African collection comprising over 200,000 objects. A curatorial scope that encompasses both archaeological and contemporary material, including both unique masterpieces of artistry and objects of everyday life. A great addition was material amassed by Sir Henry Wellcome, which was donated by the Wellcome Historical Medical Museum in 1954. Highlights of the African collection include objects found at megalithic circles in The Gambia, a dozen exquisite Afro-Portuguese ivories, a series of soapstone figures from the Kissi people in Sierra Leone and Liberia, Asante goldwork and regalia from Ghana including the Bowdich collection, the rare Akan Drum from the same region in west Africa, the Benin and Igbo-Ukwu bronze sculptures, the beautiful Bronze Head of Queen Idia, a magnificent brass head of a Yoruba ruler and quartz throne from Ife, a similar terracotta head from Iwinrin Grove near Ife, the Apapa Hoard from Lagos, southern Nigeria, an Ikom monolith from Cross River State, the Torday collection of central African sculpture, textiles and weaponry from the Kuba Kingdom including three royal figures, the unique Luzira Head from Uganda, processional crosses and other ecclesiastical and royal material from Gondar and Magdala, Ethiopia following the British Expedition to Abyssinia, excavated objects from Great Zimbabwe (that includes a unique soapstone, anthropomorphic figure) and satellite towns such as Mutare including a large hoard of Iron Age soapstone figures, a rare divining bowl from the Venda peoples and cave paintings and petroglyphs from South Africa.


The British Museum's Oceanic collections originate from the vast area of the Pacific Ocean, stretching from Papua New Guinea to Easter Island, from New Zealand to Hawaii. The three main anthropological groups represented in the collection are Polynesia, Melanesia and Micronesia – Aboriginal art from Australia is considered separately in its own right. Metal working was not indigenous to Oceania before Europeans arrived, so many of the artefacts from the collection are made from stone, shell, bone and bamboo. Prehistoric objects from the region include a bird-shaped pestle and a group of stone mortars from Papua New Guinea. The British Museum is fortunate in having some of the earliest Oceanic and Pacific collections, many of which were put together by members of Cook's and Vancouver's expeditions or by colonial administrators such as Sir George Grey, Sir Frederick Broome and Arthur Gordon, before Western culture significantly impacted on indigenous cultures. The Wilson cabinet of curiosities from Palau is another example of pre-contact ware. The department has also benefited greatly from the legacy of pioneering anthropologists such as Bronisław Malinowski and Katherine Routledge. In addition, the Māori collection is the finest outside New Zealand with many intricately carved wooden and jade objects and the Aboriginal art collection is distinguished by its wide range of bark paintings, including two very early bark etchings collected by John Hunter Kerr. A poignant artefact is the wooden shield found near Botany Bay during Cook's first voyage in 1770. A particularly important group of objects was purchased from the London Missionary Society in 1911, that includes the unique statue of A'a from Rurutu Island, the rare idol from the isle of Mangareva and the Cook Islands deity figure. Other highlights include the huge Hawaiian statue of Kū-ka-ili-moku or god of war (one of three extant in the world) and the famous Easter Island statues Hoa Hakananai'a and Moai Hava.

Americas The Americas collection mainly consists of 19th and 20th century items although the Paracas, Moche, Inca, Maya, Aztec, Taino and other early cultures are well represented. The Kayung totem pole, which was made in the late nineteenth century in the Queen Charlotte Islands, dominates the Great Court and provides a fitting introduction to this very wide-ranging collections that stretches from the very north of the North American continent where the Inuit population has lived for centuries, to the tip of South America where indigenous tribes have long thrived in Patagonia. Highlights of the collection include Aboriginal Canadian objects from Alaska and Canada collected by the 5th Earl of Lonsdale and the Marquis of Lorne, the Squier and Davis collection of prehistoric mound relics from North America, a selection of pottery vessels found in cliff-dwellings at Mesa Verde, a collection of turquoise Aztec mosaics from Mexico (the largest in Europe), important artefacts from Teotihuacan and Isla de Sacrificios, several rare pre-Columbian manuscripts including the Codex Zouche-Nuttall and Codex Waecker-Gotter, a spectacular series of Mayan lintels from Yaxchilan excavated by the British Mayanist Alfred Maudslay, a very high quality Mayan collection that includes sculptures from Copan, Tikal, Tulum, Pusilha, Naranjo and Nebaj (including the celebrated Fenton Vase), a group of Zemi Figures from Vere, Jamaica, a number of prestigious pre-Columbian gold and votive objects from Colombia, ethnographic objects from across the Amazon region including the Schomburgk collection, two rare Tiwanaku pottery vessels from Lake Titicaca and important items from Tierra del Fuego donated by Commander Phillip Parker King.

British Museum otter pipe

Room 26 - Stone pipe representing an otter from Mound City, Ohio, USA, 200 BC - 400 AD

British Museum tomb guardian

Room 2 - Stone tomb guardian, part human part jaguar, from San Agustín, Colombia, c. 300-600 AD

Maya maize god statue

Room 1 - Maya maize god statue from Copán, Honduras, 600-800 AD

Gold Lime Flasks (poporos) Quimbaya Culture, Colombia AD 600-1100 - British Museum

Room 24 - Gold Lime Flasks (poporos), Quimbaya Culture, Colombia, 600-1100 AD

Maya, lintel 25, da yaxchilan, 725

Room 27 - Lintel 25 from Yaxchilan, Late Classic, Mexico, 600-900 AD

Bird pectoral, Popayan, gold alloy, AD900–1600.

Room 24 - Bird pectoral made from gold alloy, Popayán, Colombia, 900-1600 AD

Hoa Hakananai'a - Moai in the British Museum.jpeg

Room 24 – Rapa Nui statue Hoa Hakananai'a, 1000 AD, Wellcome Trust Gallery

Denis Bourez - British Museum, London (8748174360)

Room 27 - Double-headed serpent turquoise mosaic, Aztec, Mexico, 1400-1500 AD

Denis Bourez - British Museum, London (8747055335)

Room 27 - Turquoise Mosaic Mask, Mixtec-Aztec, Mexico, 1400-1500 AD

Miniature gold llama figurine

Room 2 - Miniature gold llama figurine, Inca, Peru, about 1500 AD

Benin Bronzes at the British Museum 1

Room 25 - Part of the famous collection of Benin brass plaques, Nigeria, 1500-1600 AD

Benin brass plaque 01

Room 25 - Detail of one of the Benin brass plaques in the museum, Nigeria, 1500-1600 AD

Idia mask BM Af1910 5-13 1

Room 25 - Benin ivory mask of Queen Idia, Nigeria, 16th century AD

Hawaiian feather helmet, British Museum 3

Room 24 - Hawaiian feather helmet or mahiole, late 1700s AD

British museum, totem

Great Court - Two house frontal totem poles, Haida, British Columbia, Canada, about 1850 AD

Punu mask BM Af1904 11-22 1

Room 25 - Mask (wood and pigment); Punu people, Gabon, 19th century AD

Otobo masquerade

Room 25 - Otobo masquerade in the Africa Gallery, Nigeria, 20th century AD

El Anatsui - Man's Cloth

Room 25 - Modern interpretation of kente cloth from Ghana, late 20th century AD

Department of Coins and Medals

The British Museum is home to one of the world's finest numismatic collections, comprising about a million objects, including coins, medals, tokens and paper money. The collection spans the entire history of coinage from its origins in the 7th century BC to the present day and is representative of both the East and West. The Department of Coins and Medals was created in 1861 and celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2011.[86]

Department of Conservation and Scientific Research

This department was founded in 1920. Conservation has six specialist areas: ceramics & glass; metals; organic material (including textiles); stone, wall paintings and mosaics; Eastern pictorial art and Western pictorial art. The science department[87] has and continues to develop techniques to date artefacts, analyse and identify the materials used in their manufacture, to identify the place an artefact originated and the techniques used in their creation. The department also publishes its findings and discoveries.

Libraries and archives

This department covers all levels of education, from casual visitors, schools, degree level and beyond. The museum's various libraries hold in excess of 350,000 books, journals and pamphlets covering all areas of the museum's collection. Also the general museum archives which date from its foundation in 1753 are overseen by this department; the individual departments have their own separate archives and libraries covering their various areas of responsibility, which can be consulted by the public on application. The Anthropology Library is especially large, with 120,000 volumes.[88] However, the Paul Hamlyn Library, which had become the central reference library of the British Museum and the only library there freely open to the general public, closed permanently in August 2011.[89] The website and online database of the collection also provide increasing amounts of information.

British Museum Press

The British Museum Press (BMP) is the publishing business and a division of the British Museum Company Ltd., a company and a charity (established in 1973) wholly owned by the trustees of the British Museum.[90]

The BMP publishes both popular and scholarly illustrated books to accompany the exhibition programme and explore aspects of the general collection. Profits from their sales goes to support the British Museum.[90]

Scholarly titles are published in the Research Publications series, all of which are peer-reviewed. This series was started in 1978 and was originally called Occasional Papers. The series is designed to disseminate research on items in the collection. Between six and eight titles are published each year in this series.[91]


Elgin Marbles east pediment
A few of the Elgin Marbles (also known as the Parthenon Marbles) from the East Pediment of the Parthenon in Athens.

It is a point of controversy whether museums should be allowed to possess artifacts taken from other countries,[7][92] and the British Museum is a notable target for criticism. The Elgin Marbles, Benin Bronzes, Ethiopian Tabots and the Rosetta Stone are among the most disputed objects in its collections, and organisations have been formed demanding the return of these artefacts to their native countries of Greece, Nigeria and Egypt respectively. Parthenon Marbles claimed by Greece were also claimed by UNESCO among others for restitution. From 1801 to 1812, Elgin's agents took about half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon, as well as sculptures from the Propylaea and Erechtheum.

In recent years, controversies pertaining to reparation of artefacts taken from the Old Summer Palace in Beijing during the Anglo-French invasion of China in 1860 have also begun to surface.[93] The ransacking and destruction of the Chinese palaces has led to unhealed historical wounds in Chinese culture. Victor Hugo condemned the French and British for their plundering.[94] The British Museum and the Victoria & Albert Museum, among others, have been asked since 2009 to open their archives for investigation by a team of Chinese investigators as a part of an international mission to document lost national treasures. However, there have been fears that the United Kingdom may be asked to return these treasures.[95] As of 2010, Neil MacGregor, the Director of the British Museum, said he hoped that both British and Chinese investigators would work together on the controversial collection, which continues to result in resentment in China.[96]

The British Museum has refused to return these artefacts, stating that the "restitutionist premise, that whatever was made in a country must return to an original geographical site, would empty both the British Museum and the other great museums of the world".[97] The museum has also argued that the British Museum Act of 1963 legally prevents any object from leaving its collection once it has entered it. Nevertheless, it has returned items such as the Tasmanian Ashes after a 20-year-long battle with Australia.[98]

The British Museum continues to assert that it is an appropriate custodian and has an inalienable right to its disputed artefacts under British law.

In 2016, the British Museum moved its bag searches to marquees in the front courtyard and beside the rear entrance. This has been criticised by heritage groups as out-of-character with the historic building. The British Museum clarified that the change was purely logistical to save space in the main museum entrance and did not reflect any escalation in threat.[99]

Disputed items in the collection


BM, Main Floor Main Entrance Hall ~ South Stairs.6

Main Staircase, Discobolus of Myron (the Discus-Thrower)

British Museum 2010-06-04 B

Ceiling of the Great Court and the black siltstone obelisks of Nectanebo II, c. 350 BC

Flickr - Nic's events - British Museum with Cory and Mary, 6 Sep 2007 - 183

Detail of an Ionic capital on a pilaster in the Great Court

England; London - The British Museum, Facade South Front ~ -Main Entrance + West Wing- Colonnade + The Africa Garden.2

African Garden – created by BBC TV programme Ground Force

Museum Galleries

Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan

BM, AES Egyptian Sculpture (Room 4), View South + Towards Assyrian Sculpture Gallery (Room 6)

Room 4 – Egyptian Sculpture, view towards the Assyrian Transept

BM, AES Egyptian Sculpture (Room 4), View North.3

Room 4

Egyptian Gallery

Room 4

Department of the Middle East

BM; RM6 - ANE, Assyrian Sculpture 32 -East (N), Centre Island + North Wall- ~ Assyrian Empire + -Lamassu, Stela's, Statue's, Obelisk's, Relief Panel's & Full Projection.1

The British Museum, Room 6 – Assyrian Sculpture

BM; RM8 - ANE, Nimrud Palace Reliefs 75 South + East Wall (S) ~ Central Palace of Tiglath-pileser III (744-727 B.C) + Full Elevation & Viewing South.1

Room 8 – Pair of Lamassu from Nimrud & reliefs from the palace of Tiglath-Pileser III

BM; RM7 - ANE, Nimrud Palace Reliefs 1 Northwest Palace of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 B.C) ~ Full Elevation & Viewing South

Room 7 – Reliefs from the North-west palace of Ashurnasirpal II, Nimrud

BM; ANE - RM 89, Assyrian Reliefs ~ Nineveh

Room 89 – Nimrud & Nineveh Palace Reliefs

BM; ANE - Nineveh, The Royal Lion Hunt (Room 10)

Room 10 – Nineveh, The Royal Lion Hunt

Department of Greece and Rome

Parthenon Frieze

Room 18 – Ancient Greece

Tomb of Merehi 1

Room 20a – Tomb of Merehi & Greek Vases, Lycia, 360 BC

British Museum - Room 85, Roman Portrait Sculpture

Room 85 – Portrait Sculpture, Roman

BM; GMR - RM 83, Roman Sculpture

Room 83 – Roman Sculpture

Townley Sculptures

Room 84 – Towneley Roman Sculptures

SFEC BritMus Roman 022

Main Staircase – Discobolus, Roman

The Townley Caryatid (anterior)

Main Staircase – Townley Caryatid, Roman, 140–160 AD

Digital and online

The museum has a collaboration with the Google Cultural Institute to bring the collection online.[109]


Forgotten Empire Exhibition (October 2005 – January 2006)

Forgotten Empire Exhibition, (Room 5).1

Room 5 – Exhibitions Panorama

The British Museum, Room 5-Persepolis Bas-relief

Room 5 – The Persepolis Casts

BM; ANE - Forgotten Empire Exhibition, (Room 5).3

Room 5 – Exhibitions Relics

BM; ANE - Forgotten Empire Exhibition, The Cyrus Cylinder (Room 5)

Room 5 – The Cyrus Cylinder


  1. ^ Sculptures and applied art are in the Victoria and Albert Museum; the British Museum houses earlier art, non-Western art, prints and drawings. Art of a later date is at Tate Modern. The National Gallery holds the National Collection of Western European Art. Tate Britain holds British Art from 1500 onwards.
  2. ^ By the Act of Parliament it received a name – the British Museum. The origin of the name is not known; the word 'British' had some resonance nationally at this period, so soon after the Jacobite rebellion of 1745; it must be assumed that the museum was christened in this light.[12]
  3. ^ The estimated footage of the various libraries as reported to the trustees has been summarised by Harris (1998), 3,6: Sloane 4,600, Harley 1,700, Cotton 384, Edwards 576, The Royal Library 1,890.
  4. ^ This was perhaps rather unfortunate as the title to the house was complicated by the fact that part of the building had been erected on leasehold property (the Crown lease of which ran out in 1771); perhaps that is why George III paid such a modest price (nominally £28,000) for what was to become Buckingham Palace. See Howard Colvinet al. (1976), 134.
  5. ^ Understanding of the foundation of the National Gallery is complicated by the fact that there is no documented history of the institution. At first the National Gallery functioned effectively as part of the British Museum, to which the trustees transferred most of their most important pictures (ex. portraits). Full control was handed over to the National Gallery in 1868, after the Act of Parliament of 1856 established the Gallery as an independent body.
  6. ^ Ashmole, the Keeper of the Greek and Roman Antiquities appreciated the original top-lighting of these galleries and removed the Victorian colour scheme, commenting:

    The old Elgin Gallery was painted a deep terracotta red, which, though in some ways satisfactory, diminished its apparent size, and was apt to produce a depressing effect on the visitor. It was decided to experiment with lighter colours, and the walls of the large room were painted with what was, at its first application, a pure cold white, but which after a year's exposure had unfortunately yellowed. The small Elgin Room was painted with pure white tinted with prussian blue, and the Room of the metopes was painted with pure white tinted with cobalt blue and black; it was necessary, for practical reasons, to colour all the dadoes a darker colour[37]

  7. ^ Ashmole had never liked the Duveen Gallery:

    It is, I suppose, not positively bad, but it could have been infinitely better. It is pretentious, in that it uses the ancient Marbles to decorate itself. This is a long outmoded idea, and the exact opposite of what a sculpture gallery should do. And, although it incorporates them, it is out of scale, and tends to dwarf them with its bogus Doric features, including those columns, supporting almost nothing which would have made an ancient Greek artist architect wince. The source of daylight is too high above the sculptures, a fault that is only concealed by the amount of reflection from the pinkish marble walls. These are too similar in colour to the marbles...These half-dozen elementary errors were pointed out by everyone in the Museum, and by many scholars outside, when the building was projected.[41]

    It was not until the 1980s that the installation of a lighting scheme removed his greatest criticism of the building.
  8. ^ The Cairo Museum has 200,000 artefacts, with leading collections reposited at the Egyptian Museum of Berlin (100,000), Musée du Louvre (60,000), Petrie Museum (80,000), The Metropolitan Museum of art (26,000), University of Pennsylvania (42,000), Ashmolean Museum (40,000), Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (40,000), Museo Egizio, Turin (32,500 objects).

See also


  1. ^ "Collection size". British Museum.
  2. ^ "ALVA - Association of Leading Visitor Attractions". Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  3. ^ a b "About us". British Museum. Retrieved 26 March 2013.
  4. ^ "History of the British Museum". The British Museum. Retrieved 12 July 2018.
  5. ^ "The Life and Curiosity of Hans Sloane". The British Library. Retrieved 21 October 2017.
  6. ^ "Admission and opening times". British Museum. 14 June 2010. Retrieved 4 July 2010.
  7. ^ a b Tharoor, Kanishk (29 June 2015). "Museums and looted art: the ethical dilemma of preserving world cultures". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 April 2018.
  8. ^
  9. ^ "Creating a Great Museum: Early Collectors and The British Museum". Fathom. Archived from the original on 2 January 2010. Retrieved 4 July 2010.
  10. ^ "General history". British Museum. 14 June 2010. Retrieved 4 July 2010.
  11. ^ Gavin R de Beer, Sir Hans Sloane and the British Museum (London, 1953).
  12. ^ The question of the use of the term 'British' at this period has recently received some attention, e.g. Colley (1992), 85ff. There never has been a serious attempt to change the museum's name.
  13. ^ Letter to Charles Long (1823), BMCE115/3,10. Scrapbooks and illustrations of the Museum. (Wilson, David, M.) (2002). The British Museum: A History. London: The British Museum Press, pg 346
  14. ^ "The British Museum Images". Bmimages. Retrieved 4 July 2010.
  15. ^ a b Dunton, Larkin (1896). The World and Its People. Silver, Burdett. p. 38.
  16. ^ Wilson, David, M. (2002). The British Museum: A History. London: The British Museum Press. p. 25.
  17. ^ Cavendish, Richard (January 2009). "The British Museum opened on January 15th, 1759". History Today. Vol. 59 no. 1.
  18. ^ Rose, ED (15 April 2018). "Specimens, slips and systems: Daniel Solander and the classification of nature at the world's first public museum, 1753–1768". British Journal for the History of Science. 51 (2): 1–33. doi:10.1017/S0007087418000249. PMID 29655387.
  19. ^ "British Museum - King's Library".
  20. ^ Hoock, Holger (2010). Empires of the Imagination: Politics, War and the Arts in the British World, 1750–1850. Profile Books. p. 207. ISBN 9781861978592. Retrieved 21 July 2016.
  21. ^ BMCE1/5, 1175 (13 May 1820). Minutes of General Meeting of the Trustees, 1754–63. (Wilson, David, M. (2002). The British Museum: A History, p. 78)
  22. ^ Wondrous Curiosities – Ancient Egypt at the British Museum, pp. 66–72 (Stephanie Moser, 2006, ISBN 0-226-54209-2)
  23. ^ The Story of the British Museum, p. 24 (Marjorie Caygill, 2003, ISBN 0-7141-2772-8)
  24. ^ The British Museum – The Elgin Marbles, p. 85 (B.F.Cook, 2005, ISBN 0-7141-2134-7
  25. ^ The British Museum – Assyrian Sculpture, pp. 6–7 (Julian Reade, 2004, ISBN 0-7141-2141-X)
  26. ^ "King's Library". Bl. Retrieved 22 October 2011.
  27. ^ Wilson, David, M. (2002). The British Museum: A History. London: The British Museum Press, p. 79
  28. ^ The Story of the British Museum, p. 25 (Marjorie Caygill, 2003, ISBN 0-7141-2772-8)
  29. ^ Reade, Julian (2004). Assyrian Sculpture. London: The British Museum Press, p. 16
  30. ^ Dickens Charles Jr. (1879). "Museum, British". Dickens's Dictionary of London. Retrieved 22 August 2007. Beyond the new Lycian room is the READING ROOM: [...] ; circular structure; original suggestion of Thomas Watts, improved by A. (Sir A.) Panizzi, carried out by Mr. Sidney Smirke; [...]
  31. ^ South from Ephesus – An Escape From The Tyranny of Western Art, pp. 33–34,(Brian Sewell, 2002, ISBN 1-903933-16-1)
  32. ^ "The Electric Light in the British Museum" (PDF). The New York Times. 18 December 1879. Retrieved 15 January 2016.
  33. ^ Caygill, Marjorie (2006). The British Museum: 250 Years. London: The British Museum Press, p. 5
  34. ^ a b Caygill, Marjorie. "Creating a Great Museum: Early Collectors and The British Museum". Fathom. Archived from the original on 6 October 2007. Retrieved 13 November 2007.
  35. ^ "British Museum – Collection search: You searched for". British Museum.
  36. ^ Permanent establishment of the Research Laboratory (now the oldest such establishment in continuous existence) "History". British Museum.
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Further reading

  • Anderson, Robert (2005). The Great Court and the British Museum. London: The British Museum Press
  • Arrowsmith, Rupert Richard. Modernism and the Museum: Asian, African and Pacific Art and the London Avant Garde. Oxford University Press, 2011, pp. 103–164. ISBN 978-0-19-959369-9.
  • Arrowsmith, Rupert Richard. "The Transcultural Roots of Modernism: Imagist Poetry, Japanese Visual Culture, and the Western Museum System", Modernism/modernity Volume 18, Number 1, January 2011, pp. 27–42. ISSN 1071-6068.
  • Bowring, Joanna (2012). Chronology of Temporary Exhibitions at the British Museum London: British Museum Research Paper 189.
  • Caygill, Marjorie (2006). The British Museum: 250 Years. London: The British Museum Press
  • Caygill, Marjorie (2002). The Story of the British Museum. London: The British Museum Press
  • Cook, B. F. (2005). The Elgin Marbles. London: The British Museum Press
  • Esdaile, Arundell (1946) The British Museum Library: a Short History and Survey. London: Allen & Unwin
  • Jacobs, Norman (2010) Behind the Colonnade. Stroud: The History Press
  • Jenkins, Ian (2006). Greek Architecture and its Sculpture in The British Museum. London: The British Museum Press
  • Francis, Frank, ed. (1971) Treasures of the British Museum. London: Thames & Hudson (rev. ed., 1975)
  • Moser, Stephanie (2006). Wondrous Curiosities: Ancient Egypt at The British Museum. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press
  • Reade, Julian (2004). Assyrian Sculpture. London: The British Museum Press
  • Reeve, John (2003). The British Museum: Visitor's Guide. London: The British Museum Press
  • Wilson, David M. (2002). The British Museum: a history. London: The British Museum Press

External links

Albert Günther

Albert Karl Ludwig Gotthilf Günther FRS, also Albert Charles Lewis Gotthilf Günther (3 October 1830 – 1 February 1914), was a German-born British zoologist, ichthyologist, and herpetologist. Günther is ranked the second-most productive reptile taxonomist (after George Albert Boulenger) with more than 340 reptile species described.

Arthur Gardiner Butler

Arthur Gardiner Butler (27 June 1844 in Chelsea, London – 28 May 1925 in Beckenham, Kent) was an English entomologist, arachnologist and ornithologist. He worked at the British Museum working on the taxonomy of birds, insects, and spiders.

He also published articles on spiders of Australia, the Galápagos, Madagascar, and other places.

At the British Museum, he was appointed as an officer with two roles, as an assistant-keeper in zoology and as an assistant-librarian in 1879.

British Museum Department of Asia

The Department of Asia in the British Museum is one of the largest collections of historical artifacts from Asia, consisting of over 75,000 objects covering the material culture of the Asian continent (including East Asia, South and Central Asia, and Southeast Asia), and dating from the Neolithic age up to the present. (The collection formerly included objects from the Islamic world, but these have recently been merged with the Department of the Ancient Near East to form the Department of the Middle East.)

British Museum Reading Room

The British Museum Reading Room, situated in the centre of the Great Court of the British Museum, used to be the main reading room of the British Library. In 1997, this function moved to the new British Library building at St Pancras, London, but the Reading Room remains in its original form at the British Museum.

Designed by Sydney Smirke and opened in 1857, the Reading Room was in continual use until its temporary closure for renovation in 1997. It was reopened in 2000, and from 2007 to 2014 it was used to stage temporary exhibitions. It has since been closed while its future use remains under discussion.

Bulletin of the Natural History Museum

Bulletin of the Natural History Museum, formerly known as Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History) is a series of scientific journals published by the British Museum, and later by the Natural History Museum of London. Titles in the series included

Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Botany Series

Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Entomology Series

Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Geology Series

Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Historical Series

Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Mineralogy Series

Bulletin of the British Museum (Natural History), Zoology SeriesUpon transfer to the Natural History Museum, the journals were known as

Bulletin of the Natural History Museum, Botany Series

Bulletin of the Natural History Museum, Entomology Series

Bulletin of the Natural History Museum, Historical Series

Bulletin of the Natural History Museum, Geology Series (which included the former Mineralogy series)

Bulletin of the Natural History Museum, Zoology SeriesThe Botany, Entomology and Zoology series merged to form Systematics and Biodiversity, while the Geology series was succeeded by the Journal of Systematic Palaeontology.

Crystal skull

The crystal skulls are human skull hardstone carvings made of clear or milky white quartz (also called "rock crystal"), claimed to be pre-Columbian Mesoamerican artifacts by their alleged finders; however, these claims have been refuted for all of the specimens made available for scientific studies.

The results of these studies demonstrated that those examined were manufactured in the mid-19th century or later, almost certainly in Europe during a time when interest in ancient culture was abundant. The skulls were crafted in the 19th century in Germany, quite likely at workshops in the town of Idar-Oberstein, which was renowned for crafting objects made from imported Brazilian quartz in the late 19th century. Despite some claims presented in an assortment of popularizing literature, legends of crystal skulls with mystical powers do not figure in genuine Mesoamerican or other Native American mythologies and spiritual accounts.The skulls are often claimed to exhibit paranormal phenomena by some members of the New Age movement, and have often been portrayed as such in fiction. Crystal skulls have been a popular subject appearing in numerous sci-fi television series, novels, films, and video games.

Cyrus Cylinder

The Cyrus Cylinder (Persian: استوانه کوروش‎, translit. Ostovane-ye Kūrosh) or Cyrus Charter (منشور کوروش Manshūre Kūrosh) is an ancient clay cylinder, now broken into several pieces, on which is written a declaration in Akkadian cuneiform script in the name of Persia's Achaemenid king Cyrus the Great. It dates from the 6th century BC and was discovered in the ruins of Babylon in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) in 1879. It is currently in the possession of the British Museum, which sponsored the expedition that discovered the cylinder. It was created and used as a foundation deposit following the Persian conquest of Babylon in 539 BC, when the Neo-Babylonian Empire was invaded by Cyrus and incorporated into his Persian Empire.

The text on the Cylinder praises Cyrus, sets out his genealogy and portrays him as a king from a line of kings. The Babylonian king Nabonidus, who was defeated and deposed by Cyrus, is denounced as an impious oppressor of the people of Babylonia and his low-born origins are implicitly contrasted to Cyrus' kingly heritage. The victorious Cyrus is portrayed as having been chosen by the chief Babylonian god Marduk to restore peace and order to the Babylonians. The text states that Cyrus was welcomed by the people of Babylon as their new ruler and entered the city in peace. It appeals to Marduk to protect and help Cyrus and his son Cambyses. It extols Cyrus as a benefactor of the citizens of Babylonia who improved their lives, repatriated displaced people and restored temples and cult sanctuaries across Mesopotamia and elsewhere in the region. It concludes with a description of how Cyrus repaired the city wall of Babylon and found a similar inscription placed there by an earlier king.The Cylinder's text has traditionally been seen by biblical scholars as corroborative evidence of Cyrus' policy of the repatriation of the Jewish people following their Babylonian captivity (an act that the Book of Ezra attributes to Cyrus), as the text refers to the restoration of cult sanctuaries and repatriation of deported peoples. This interpretation has been disputed, as the text identifies only Mesopotamian sanctuaries, and makes no mention of Jews, Jerusalem, or Judea. The Cylinder has also been referred to by Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the last Shah of Iran as the first declaration of universal human rights, a view rejected by some historians as anachronistic and a misunderstanding of the Cylinder's generic nature as a typical statement made by a new monarch at the beginning of his reign. Neil MacGregor, former Director of the British Museum, has stated that the cylinder was "the first attempt we know about running a society, a state with different nationalities and faiths—a new kind of statecraft". It was adopted as a national symbol of Iran by the Imperial State which put it on display in Tehran in 1971 to commemorate 2,500 year celebration of the Persian Empire. On October 14, the Mohammad Reza Shah's sister, Princess Ashraf Pahlavi, presented the United Nations Secretary General U Thant with a replica of the Cylinder. The princess asserted that "the heritage of Cyrus was the heritage of human understanding, tolerance, courage, compassion and, above all, human liberty".

E. A. Wallis Budge

Sir Ernest Alfred Thompson Wallis Budge (27 July 1857 – 23 November 1934) was an English Egyptologist, Orientalist, and philologist who worked for the British Museum and published numerous works on the ancient Near East. He made numerous trips to Egypt and the Sudan on behalf of the British Museum to buy antiquities, and helped it build its collection of cuneiform tablets, manuscripts, and papyri. He published many books on Egyptology, helping to bring the findings to larger audiences. In 1920, he was knighted for his service to Egyptology and the British Museum.

Elgin Marbles

The Parthenon Marbles (Greek: Γλυπτά του Παρθενώνα), also known as the Elgin Marbles (), are a collection of Classical Greek marble sculptures made under the supervision of the architect and sculptor Phidias and his assistants. They were originally part of the temple of the Parthenon and other buildings on the Acropolis of Athens.From 1801 to 1812, agents of Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin removed about half of the surviving sculptures of the Parthenon, as well as sculptures from the Propylaea and Erechtheum. The Marbles were transported by sea to Britain. Elgin later claimed to have obtained in 1801 an official decree (a firman) from the Sublime Porte, the central government of the Ottoman Empire which were then the rulers of Greece. This firman has not been found in the Ottoman archives despite its wealth of documents from the same period and its veracity is disputed. The half not removed by Elgin is now displayed in the Acropolis Museum, aligned in orientation and within sight of the Parthenon, with the position of the missing elements clearly marked and space left should they be returned to Athens.In Britain, the acquisition of the collection was supported by some, while some others, such as Lord Byron, likened the Earl's actions to vandalism or looting. Following a public debate in Parliament and its subsequent exoneration of Elgin, he sold the Marbles to the British government in 1816. They were then passed to the British Museum, where they are now on display in the purpose-built Duveen Gallery.

After gaining its independence from the Ottoman Empire in 1832, the newly-founded Greek state began a series of projects to restore its monuments and retrieve looted art. It has expressed its disapproval of Elgin's removal of the Marbles from the Acropolis and the Parthenon, which is regarded as one of the world's greatest cultural monuments. International efforts to repatriate the Marbles to Greece were intensified in the 1980s by then Greek Minister of Culture Melina Mercouri, and there are now many organisations actively campaigning for the Marbles' return, several united as part of the International Association for the Reunification of the Parthenon Sculptures. The Greek government itself continues to urge the return of the marbles to Athens so as to be unified with the remaining marbles and for the complete Parthenon frieze sequence to be restored, through diplomatic, political and legal means.In 2014, UNESCO offered to mediate between Greece and the United Kingdom to resolve the dispute, although this was later turned down by the British Museum on the basis that UNESCO works with government bodies, not trustees of museums.

Francis Walker (entomologist)

Francis Walker (31 July 1809 – 5 October 1874) was an English entomologist. He was one of the most prolific authors in entomology, and stirred controversy during his later life as his publications resulted in a huge number of junior synonyms.

Walker was contracted by the British Museum between June 1848 and late 1873 to catalogue their insects (except Coleoptera). He was born in Southgate, England on 31 July 1809 and died at Wanstead, England on 5 October 1874. Walker added an immense amount of material to the collections of the British Museum and wrote over 300 scientific papers and notes. He is best known for his catalogues of Orthoptera, Neuroptera, Hemiptera, Diptera, Lepidoptera and Hymenoptera. Collaborating with Alexander Henry Haliday, a lifelong friend, he was one of the first students of the Chalcidoidea. He was also a close friend of John Curtis. Walker was a fellow of the Entomological Society. Walker's specimens are in the Natural History Museum, London; Hope Department of Entomology, University of Oxford; the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin; Zoologische Staatssammlung München and the School of Medicine, Cairo, Egypt.

Holy Thorn Reliquary

The Holy Thorn Reliquary was probably created in the 1390s in Paris for John, Duke of Berry, to house a relic of the Crown of Thorns. The reliquary was bequeathed to the British Museum in 1898 by Ferdinand de Rothschild as part of the Waddesdon Bequest. It is one of a small number of major goldsmiths' works or joyaux that survive from the extravagant world of the courts of the Valois royal family around 1400. It is made of gold, lavishly decorated with jewels and pearls, and uses the technique of enamelling en ronde bosse, or "in the round", which had been recently developed when the reliquary was made, to create a total of 28 three-dimensional figures, mostly in white enamel.

Except at its base the reliquary is slim, with two faces; the front view shows the end of the world and the Last Judgement, with the Trinity and saints above and the resurrection of the dead below, and the relic of a single long thorn believed to come from the crown of thorns worn by Jesus when he was crucified. The rear view has less extravagant decoration, mostly in plain gold in low relief, and has doors that opened to display a flat object, now missing, which was presumably another relic.

The reliquary was in the Habsburg collections from at least the 16th century until the 1860s, when it was replaced by a forgery during a restoration by an art dealer, Salomon Weininger. The fraud remained undetected until well after the original reliquary came to the British Museum. The reliquary was featured in the BBC's A History of the World in 100 Objects, in which Neil MacGregor described it as "without question one of the supreme achievements of medieval European metalwork", and was a highlight of the exhibition Treasures of Heaven: Saints, Relics, and Devotion in Medieval Europe at the British Museum from June 23 to October 2011.

John Edward Gray

John Edward Gray, FRS (12 February 1800 – 7 March 1875) was a British zoologist. He was the elder brother of zoologist George Robert Gray and son of the pharmacologist and botanist Samuel Frederick Gray (1766–1828). The standard author abbreviation J.E.Gray is used to indicate this person as the author when citing a botanical name. or zoological name.

Gray was Keeper of Zoology at the British Museum in London from 1840 until Christmas 1874, before the Natural History holdings were split off to the Natural History Museum. He published several catalogues of the museum collections that included comprehensive discussions of animal groups as well as descriptions of new species. He improved the zoological collections to make them amongst the best in the world.

Lewis chessmen

The Lewis chessmen (Norwegian: Lewisbrikkene; Scottish Gaelic: Fir-Tàilisg; Scots: Lewis chesmen) or Uig chessmen, named after the bay where they were found, are a group of distinctive 12th-century chess pieces, along with other game pieces, most of which are carved from walrus ivory. Discovered in 1831 on Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland, they may constitute some of the few complete, surviving medieval chess sets, although it is not clear if a set as originally made can be assembled from the pieces. When found, the hoard contained 93 artifacts: 78 chess pieces, 14 tablemen and one belt buckle. Today, 82 pieces are owned and usually exhibited by the British Museum in London, and the remaining 11 are at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Lindow Man

Lindow Man, also known as Lindow II and (in jest) as Pete Marsh, is the preserved bog body of a man discovered in a peat bog at Lindow Moss near Wilmslow in Cheshire, North West England. The human remains were found on 1 August 1984 by commercial peat-cutters. Lindow Man is not the only bog body to have been found in the moss; Lindow Woman was discovered the year before, and other body parts have also been recovered. The find, described as "one of the most significant archaeological discoveries of the 1980s", caused a media sensation. It helped invigorate study of British bog bodies, which had previously been neglected in comparison to those found in the rest of Europe.

At the time of death, Lindow Man was a healthy male in his mid-20s, and he may have been someone of high status, as his body shows little evidence of heavy or rough work. There has been debate over the reason for Lindow Man's death, because the nature of his demise was violent, perhaps ritualistic; after a last meal of charred bread, Lindow Man was strangled, hit on the head, and his throat cut. Dating the body has proven problematic, but it is thought that Lindow Man was deposited into Lindow Moss, face down, some time between 2 BC and 119 AD, in either the Iron Age or Romano-British period. The recovered body has been preserved by freeze-drying and is on permanent display at the British Museum, although it occasionally travels to other venues such as the Manchester Museum.

Natural History Museum, London

The Natural History Museum in London is a natural history museum that exhibits a vast range of specimens from various segments of natural history. It is one of three major museums on Exhibition Road in South Kensington, the others being the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. The Natural History Museum's main frontage, however, is on Cromwell Road.

The museum is home to life and earth science specimens comprising some 80 million items within five main collections: botany, entomology, mineralogy, paleontology and zoology. The museum is a centre of research specialising in taxonomy, identification and conservation. Given the age of the institution, many of the collections have great historical as well as scientific value, such as specimens collected by Charles Darwin. The museum is particularly famous for its exhibition of dinosaur skeletons and ornate architecture—sometimes dubbed a cathedral of nature—both exemplified by the large Diplodocus cast that dominated the vaulted central hall before it was replaced in 2017 with the skeleton of a blue whale hanging from the ceiling. The Natural History Museum Library contains extensive books, journals, manuscripts, and artwork collections linked to the work and research of the scientific departments; access to the library is by appointment only. The museum is recognised as the pre-eminent centre of natural history and research of related fields in the world.

Although commonly referred to as the Natural History Museum, it was officially known as British Museum (Natural History) until 1992, despite legal separation from the British Museum itself in 1963. Originating from collections within the British Museum, the landmark Alfred Waterhouse building was built and opened by 1881 and later incorporated the Geological Museum. The Darwin Centre is a more recent addition, partly designed as a modern facility for storing the valuable collections.

Like other publicly funded national museums in the United Kingdom, the Natural History Museum does not charge an admission fee. (It did but was scrapped in 2001)

The museum is an exempt charity and a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge is a patron of the museum. There are approximately 850 staff at the Museum. The two largest strategic groups are the Public Engagement Group and Science Group.

Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone is a granodiorite stele, found in 1799, inscribed with three versions of a decree issued at Memphis, Egypt, in 196 BC during the Ptolemaic dynasty on behalf of King Ptolemy V. The top and middle texts are in Ancient Egyptian using hieroglyphic script and Demotic script, respectively, while the bottom is in Ancient Greek. As the decree has only minor differences between the three versions, the Rosetta Stone proved to be the key to deciphering Egyptian hieroglyphs, thereby opening a window into ancient Egyptian history.

The stone, carved during the Hellenistic period, is believed to have originally been displayed within a temple, possibly at nearby Sais. It was probably moved during the early Christian or medieval period, and was eventually used as building material in the construction of Fort Julien near the town of Rashid (Rosetta) in the Nile Delta. It was rediscovered there in July 1799 by a French soldier named Pierre-François Bouchard during the Napoleonic campaign in Egypt. It was the first Ancient Egyptian bilingual text recovered in modern times, and it aroused widespread public interest with its potential to decipher this previously untranslated hieroglyphic language. Lithographic copies and plaster casts began circulating among European museums and scholars. British troops having meanwhile defeated the French, under the Capitulation of Alexandria in 1801 the original stone came into British possession and was transported to London. It has been on public display at the British Museum almost continuously since 1802 and is the most-visited object there.

Study of the decree was already under way when the first full translation of the Greek text appeared in 1803. It was 20 years, however, before the transliteration of the Egyptian scripts was announced by Jean-François Champollion in Paris in 1822; it took longer still before scholars were able to read Ancient Egyptian inscriptions and literature confidently. Major advances in the decoding were recognition that the stone offered three versions of the same text (1799); that the demotic text used phonetic characters to spell foreign names (1802); that the hieroglyphic text did so as well, and had pervasive similarities to the demotic (Thomas Young, 1814); and that, in addition to being used for foreign names, phonetic characters were also used to spell native Egyptian words (Champollion, 1822–1824).

Ever since its rediscovery, the stone has been the focus of nationalist rivalries, including its transfer from French to British possession during the Napoleonic Wars, a long-running dispute over the relative value of Young and Champollion's contributions to the decipherment and, since 2003, demands for the stone's return to Egypt.

Two other fragmentary copies of the same decree were discovered later, and several similar Egyptian bilingual or trilingual inscriptions are now known, including two slightly earlier Ptolemaic decrees (the Decree of Canopus in 238 BC, and the Memphis decree of Ptolemy IV, c. 218 BC). The Rosetta Stone is, therefore, no longer unique, but it was the essential key to modern understanding of Ancient Egyptian literature and civilisation. The term Rosetta Stone is now used in other contexts as the name for the essential clue to a new field of knowledge.

Skipper (butterfly)

Skippers are a family, Hesperiidae, of the Lepidoptera (moths and butterflies). Being diurnal, they are generally called butterflies. They were previously placed in a separate superfamily, Hesperioidea; however, the most recent taxonomy places the family in the superfamily Papilionoidea. They are named for their quick, darting flight habits. Most have the antenna tip modified into a narrow hook-like projection. More than 3500 species of skippers are recognized, and they occur worldwide, but with the greatest diversity in the Neotropical regions of Central and South America.

Sweet Track

The Sweet Track is an ancient trackway, or causeway in the Somerset Levels, England, named after its finder, Ray Sweet. It was built in 3807 BC and is the second-oldest timber trackway discovered in the British Isles, dating to the Neolithic. It is now known that the Sweet Track was predominantly built over the course of an earlier structure, the Post Track.

The track extended across the now largely drained marsh between what was then an island at Westhay and a ridge of high ground at Shapwick, a distance close to 2,000 metres (6,600 ft) or around 1.2 miles. The track is one of a network that once crossed the Somerset Levels. Various artifacts and prehistoric finds, including a jadeitite ceremonial axe head, have been found in the peat bogs along its length.Construction was of crossed wooden poles, driven into the waterlogged soil to support a walkway that consisted mainly of planks of oak, laid end-to-end. The track was used for a period of only around ten years and was then abandoned, probably due to rising water levels. Following its discovery in 1970, most of the track has been left in its original location, with active conservation measures taken, including a water pumping and distribution system to maintain the wood in its damp condition. Some of the track is stored at the British Museum and at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton. A reconstruction has been made on which visitors can walk, on the same line as the original in Shapwick Heath National Nature Reserve.

Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild

Lionel Walter Rothschild, 2nd Baron Rothschild, Baron de Rothschild, (8 February 1868 – 27 August 1937), was a British banker, politician, zoologist and scion of the Rothschild family. As a prominent Zionist leader, he was presented with the famous Balfour Declaration which pledged to a Jewish national home in Palestine. Rothschild was the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews from 1925 to 1926.

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