Towering over Great Russell Street, the British Museum has housed antiquities from all over the world for nearly 300 years. Its selection spans from the beginning of time, through humans cultural evolution right up until the present day. There are 8 million permanent artifacts to behold, their collections include the Rosetta Stone, parts of Athens’ Parthenon, a Maoi figure from Easter Island, the Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon helmet and Egyptian mummies, as well as coins, jewels and ceramics from African, Asia and beyond. Here is a brief insight on the history of this world famous museum and the delights that it has to offer.
It is thanks to Sir Hans Sloane, a physician and avid collector who owned over 71,000 objects accrued in his lifetime that we have many of the fascinating artifacts inside the British Museum today. After his death in 1753, he gave his collection to King George II who passed an Act of Parliament to launch the British Museum in the latter part of 1753 and it was opened to the public in 1759, not far from what is known as the Montcalm Hotel London today. The museum has been open ever since, except during World War I and II, and receives a staggering 6 million people from all over the world through its doors every year.
The 1800’s saw a huge expansion occurred when the famous and historically important Rosetta Stone and Parthenon sculptures were introduced to the exhibition. As the collections increased, the natural history items were moved to a building in South Kensington, which became the Natural History Museum, and the British Museum became significantly involved with work abroad to uncover more artifacts and to gather a deeper understanding of the cultures that the artifacts originated from.
In 2008 and 2009, Europe AD 1050-1540, Chinese ceramics, Clocks and Watches and The Tomb-chapel of Nebamun: Ancient Egyptian Life and Death became permanent exhibits in the British Museum and it now proudly houses 10 departments including Middle East, Coins and Medals, Prints and Drawings, Conservation and Scientific Research, Ancient Egypt and Sudan, Greece and Rome and Oceania and the Americas. The museum is constantly adding to its collections and is looking to expand with a World Conservation section within the next few years.
What’s on now
Sunken Cities: Egypt’s Lost Worlds
Ancient Egypt was a vast, powerful empire so it is unsurprising that even thousands of years later, new cities are being discovered. Recently, archeologists have discovered two cities that were lost under the sea; Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus were cities that were at the edge of the Nile and so would have been incredibly significant cities. Thonis-Heracleion was named after the Greek hero Heracles and it was one of the most important business ports in the country, whereas Canopus was the heart of the Egypt, where many travelled to to worship the Egyptian Gods. Today, the special exhibition gives and incredible insight into the discovery and explorations of these two cities from under the ocean waves.
South Africa: The Art of a Nation
From the 27th October, the British Museum will be holding a special exhibition for all art and culture lovers. This exhibition looks at the history of South Africa through the medium of art; from rock carvings to contemporary pieces, this exhibition spans a staggering 100,000 years, allowing visitors to walk through time and see how this amazing country became what it is today.
Made in Japan: Kakiemon and 400 years of Porcelain
Japanese porcelain is one of the oldest art forms and, to celebrate over 400 years of production in Japan, the British Museum is holding a free exhibition dedicated to the art. Believed to have begun in Arita, near Nagasaki, in the 17th century, the Kakiemon style has become incredibly popular, especially with European collectors, and the kiln specifically built to create these pieces has been working non-stop for 15 generations. The same rules still apply to the creation process today as it did back in the 1600’s and, even today, the tradition of the eldest son inheriting the business is still upheld. It is a fascinating exhibit to explore and gives a wonderful insight into the production of this beautiful porcelain and a glimpse into Japan’s artistic history.
Historical fun for everyone
The British Museum offers a free range of resources every day for families to introduce children to different time periods throughout history. The Families Desk have crayons, pencils and pads on hand for any young artists that wish to recreate famous works of art; they also have Activity Trails available for the whole family to follow, ranging from counting trails for 3-5 year olds to Hunting for Dragons for 6-11 year olds . The Museum also offers a free handling session every day which allows you to touch and hold a piece of history while the guide gives you a larger understanding of where it came from, just don’t drop it!
To teach children about the artifacts and to give a memorable experience, the Museum offers Children’s Multimedia Guides. With help from Vid the Alien, the children take a guided tour around Ancient Egypt, Ancient Greece and Rome, Africa, Early Britain, Asia, Africa, Americas and Oceania and the Middle East; in each of these sections there are highlighted objects for the children to find as well as historical information. There are also interactive games which will keep them entertained for hours.
No tour would be complete without a stop at the Museum shop; packed full of historical replicas, books, jewellery, clothes and accessories, it is the perfect final stop to grab yourself some replicas of the famous artifacts you have seen around the Museum. After a fun-filled day, thankfully the British Museum is a short walk away from the hotels near London City, where you can get back, relax and test each others historical knowledge.