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The Incomparable British Museum

The Incomparable British Museum

A holiday in London, England is not complete without a visit to the internationally acclaimed British Museum. The museum, dedicated to human history, culture, and art, boasts a collection of nearly eight million objects. The British Museum earned the distinction of having the most comprehensive permanent collections in existence today.

British museum

The British Museum, established in 1753, stemmed from the collection of curiosities belonging to physician and naturalist, Sir Hans Sloane. During his global travels, Sloane compiled 71,000 objects, which he willed to King George II. The king gave his consent for the museum; the seventeenth-century mansion, Montagu House would be the home to Sloane’s collection. Once renovated, the first national museum, free and open to the public, opened its doors in 1759. Since that time, the British Museum has grown exponentially. Close to seven million visitors, enjoy the museum’s ninety-four galleries, which fill over 807,000 square feet. The British Museum, considered the number one museum in the United Kingdom, ranks as the fifth best museum in the world.

Sir Hans Sloane by Stephen Saught, Ntional Portait Gallery London
Sir Hans Sloane by Stephen Saught, Ntional Portait Gallery London.

A museum of this size requires a great deal of organization and specialization. The British Museum has ten curatorial, research departments, and is presently conducting worldwide research to enrich their knowledge base. With such a wealth of pieces, enjoying the British Museum by departments is the most efficient way to ensure viewing of all collections.

Department of Africa, Oceania and the Americas

The Department of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas holds approximately 350,000 objects, and it represents collections of historical, archeological, and contemporary works of indigenous people of Africa (not including the works of Ancient Egypt, Sudan, and the Mediterranean), the Pacific and Australia, as well as North, Central and South America and the Caribbean. The majority of the objects in the Department of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas arrived in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The British Museum continues to explore these areas and collecting continues.

Department of Ancient Egypt and the Sudan

The Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan at the British Museum houses over 100,000 objects originating from the cultures of the Nile Valley. This collection dates back to about 10,000 BC during the Neolithic period and encompasses present day cultures. The Department is one of the leading research libraries on the subject of Egyptology and Nubian Studies and maintains a valuable archive on these subjects. The Department of Ancient Egypt and Sudan publishes a yearly newsletter, which shows the most recent work in the areas of Egyptology and Nubian Studies.
You will find in this department the famous Rosetta Stone:

Rosetta Stone
© Hans Hillewaert - CC BY-SA 4.0

Department of Asia

The Department of Asia covers East, South, and Southeast Asia, parts of Central Asia, and extending to Siberia. Pieces displayed range from the Neolithic Era to the present day. The collection represents a diverse and complex assortment of urban civilizations as well as rural populations. Some impressive components of the Department of Asia include a far-reaching collection of Indian sculpture; this includes the renowned limestone Buddhist reliefs from Amravati, as well as an exceptional array of artifacts and graphic art created by the early Japanese. The Chinese compilation holds the Admonitions of the Court Instructress, often called the Admonitions scroll. Many scholars regard this scroll as the most significant scroll painting in the history of Chinese art.

Department of Coins and Medals

The Department of Coins and Medals is arguably the finest collection of its kind, holding over one million pieces. The collection traverses the history of the coin from the seventh century BC to the present day. Additionally, the Department of Coins and Medals holds numerous materials related to coin weights, tokens, and money boxes as well as an impressive collection of medals from the Renaissance through modern times. A particularly compelling collection held in this department is the collection of paper money. This collection begins with one of the earliest fourteenth century Chinese bills to the modern euro note.

Department of Conservation and Scientific Research

The Department of Conservation and Scientific Research works to care for, preserve, and investigate study museum pieces to assure their preservation for the future.

Department of Greece and Rome

The Department of Greece and Rome holds a vast and comprehensive collection of over 100,000 objects from the Greek and Roman world. These span the centuries between the Greek Bronze ages through the reign of Roman Emperor Constantine. A comprehensive collection of Italic and Etruscan artifacts and representations from the Cycladic, Minoan, and Mycenaean cultures are also included in the Department of Greece and Rome. Among the most eminent works housed in the British Museum are the marble sculptures from the Parthenon and components of two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World the Mausoleum at Halikarnassos and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesos.

Department of the Middle East

The Department of the Middle East encompasses the area of Mesopotamia (Iraq); Iran; the Levant (includes Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel); Anatolia (Turkey); Arabia; Central Asia and the Caucasus. Included in this compilation are Assyrian reliefs, Phoenician ivories, treasures from the Royal Cemetery of Ur, and the impressive library of cuneiform tablets from Nineveh. Persian, Turkish and Mughal Indian works and collections of Islamic inlaid metalwork are included in this department. The Department of the Middle East is actively working on excavations across the Middle East.

Department of Britain, Europe and Prehistory

Curators in the Department of Britain, Europe, and Prehistory are responsible for an extensive variety of antiquities. Pieces in this department range in age from Paleolithic and Neolithic to the Bronze Age and Iron Age in Europe and Roman Britain. Since 2007, the Department of Britain, Europe, and Prehistory manages the Portable Antiquities Scheme or PAS. This began as a part of administering the Treasure Act of 1996. This initiative’s goal is to document the thousands of archaeological pieces found by citizens of England and Wales.

Department of Prints and Drawings

The Department of Prints and Drawings is responsible for curating approximately 50,000 drawings and over two million prints, which date from the early fifteenth century up to the present day. It is one of the top collections, of its kind, in the world.

The British Museum is a treasure trove of man’s history, culture, and artistic endeavors. Consider spending more than a single day exploring all that the museum has to offer and prepare to be amazed.

Inside Birtish Museum

Practical information when visiting British Museum

- The Museum is closed 24, 25 and 26 December and 1 January, but is open every other day of the year.
- Museum galleries are open daily 10.00–17.30, and most are open until 20.30 on Fridays. Closing starts from 17.20 (20.20 on Fridays).
- Location: Great Russell Street, London, WC1B 3DG, nearest metro stations are: Tottenham Court Road, Holborn, Russell Square and Goodge Street.
- British museum visit in one hour
- British museum visit in three hours
- You can stop at British museum using Original London Tour buses
- Tours in London and of British Museum
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