London is famous for its stunning array of museums. From the trio of Kensington Row to the many smaller, intimate museums across the city’s 32 boroughs, there’s a lot to choose from for guests of hotels in the City of London.
One museum that cannot be overlooked is the British Museum. Thought to be the largest museum in the world dedicated to human history, it contains 8 million works from the beginning of human history to the present day, and holds the record for being the first public museum to ever be built.
This is unsurprising, the roots of the museum date all the way back to 1753, when it was built from the collections of scientist and antique collector Sir Hans Sloane. Over the years, Sloane had gathered artefacts from his travels across the world. By the time of his death in 1753, Sloane had amassed more than 70,000 pieces which became the basis for not only the British Museum but the British Library and the Natural History Museum. Over the years, the museum gathered even more relics from across every continent, in part thanks to British expansionism and archaeology efforts. Now the museum holds over 8 million objects and draws in around 6 million visitors a year.
That’s quite a lot of information - and artefacts - for first time guests of hotels near Finsbury Square London to get to grips with. That’s why this blog will outline some of the key exhibitions, artefacts and landmarks to explore across the 9 departments of this beautiful museum.
The Rosetta Stone
The torn shard of a larger slab, the Rosetta Stone was discovered in 1799 and its inscriptions were used to unlock the language of Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs. The decree written upon the stone is merely propaganda and priest rallying for the pharaoh Ptolemy V, dating back to 196 BC, so is of less interest than the language of the stone. The fact that the Rosetta Stone, which can be found in Room 4, was written in Demotic, Ancient Greek and hieroglyphs meant that historians and linguists could cross-reference the languages so they could learn to read hieroglyphics elsewhere and learn more about Ancient Egyptian culture. The Rosetta Stone then became the first translation book for Ancient Egyptian!
The Ife Head dates to around 600 years old and depicts a West African king - or Ooni in what was once a country called Ife, from where the contemporary Yoruba people hail from. The head was originally thought to have been inspired by Western sculpting due to its naturalistic depiction. However, over the years, researchers realised that with no contact with Western culture, this statue, and others like it, were a natural evolution of Western African art.
The Aztec Serpent sculpture dates back to the 15th or 16th century and was found in Mexico, where it may have had ritual significance for the Aztec civilization that existed there during that period. The sculpture itself was built from around 2000 pieces of turquoise, significant because it was the colour of choice for offerings and gifts to the emperor. It’s likely that this beautiful piece of decorative art represents the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl. The piece, which is located in Room 27 of the museum, is likely one of the most beautiful and striking pieces in the British Museum.
The Lindow Man
Dating back to between 2 BC and AD 119, the Lindow Man was found in Lindow Moss Bog near Manchester in 1984. The curled, leathery body is part of a well preserved collection of bodies discovered in the area which also include skull fragments and legs. The peat bog in which he was found preserved much of the skin of the Lindow Man, and even some of the hair. His injuries probably resulted from a violent attack or battle. Little else is known about who or what the Lindow Man’s fate or culture was, but the well preserved body gives a glimpse into what ancient man looked like.
Grayson Perry’s The Tomb of the Unknown Craftsman
With so many of the beautiful artefacts at the British Museum attributed to anonymous creators, Grayson Perry, a seminal British artist created the Tomb of the Unknown Craftsmen as a memorial to these many people. The beautiful work consists of an iron crafted ship, sailing into the underworld and can be found in Room 17 at the museum.
Ramesses The Great
Reigning from 1279 - 1213 BC, Ramesses The Great is just one of the eye catching, monumental sculptures within the museum. Situated in Room 4 of the museum, guests of spa hotels in London will no doubt be drawn to what is thought to be the inspiration for Percy Shelley’s poem Ozymandias. The stunning, 7 and a half tonne sculpture was found in a temple in Luxor in Egypt, and was built as testament to the once powerful pharoah’s military victories and his ancestral links to sun god Amun-Ra.
Hard to miss as you wander the ground floor halls of the British Museum, the Hoa Hakananai’a sculpture in Room 27 dates to between AD 1000 to 1200 and was transported to England from Easter Island. The Polynesian god sculpture, known as a moai is one of many situated on the island and was sculpted using basalt. On the back of the sculpture are a range of petroglyphs that show bird heads and bird-human hybrids. The statue had great importance for the island’s natives, who incorporated them into ceremonies and used the Hoa Hakananai'a as reminders of their ancestors.
As you can probably tell, the returnability factor for the British Museum is off the scale. You simply couldn’t see everything in just one day, just as you couldn’t learn all about the history of human civilization in just one day either. Whether it’s your first time or your 50th, there’ll always be something new for the Montcalm London City guests to discover on a trip to London’s most extensive and fascinating museum.