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Historical Objects and Masterpieces of the British Museum

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Historical Objects and Masterpieces of the British Museum

The British Museum has preserved a universality in its collections of artefacts representing many cultures from ancient times to the modern world. 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 British Museum houses one of the most extensive collections of Egyptian and Sudanese antiquities outside Egypt and Sudan. The collection covers the cultures of the Nile Valley including Nubia, from the Predynastic Neolithic period (c. 10,000 BC) through to the Coptic Christian times (12th century AD), a time-span over eleven thousand years. There are seven permanent Egyptian galleries, which display less than 5% of its total Egyptian holdings. The second-floor galleries have a selection of the of mummies, coffins and tomb artefacts associated with the cult of the dead.

Ancient Egypt and Sudan Collection

Egyptian antiquities collection started in 1753 with the behest of Sir Hans Sloane’s Egyptian objects. The collection was further expanded after the defeat of the French at the Battle of the Nile in 1801, the French Egyptian antiquities collection was confiscated by the British army and presented to the British Museum in 1803. From these early foundations, the museum supported purchases and excavations in Egypt until changes in antiquities laws in Egypt, and later Sudan led to the suspension in exports of archaeological finds. The size of the Egyptian collections now stands at over 110,000 objects.

The Ancient Egypt and Sudan collection cover the following periods:
  • Predynastic and Early Dynastic period (c. 6000 BC – c. 2690 BC)
  • Old Kingdom (2690–2181 BC)
  • Middle Kingdom (2134–1690 BC)
  • New Kingdom (1549–1069 BC)
  • Third Intermediate Period (1069–664 BC)
  • Late Period (664–332 BC)
  • Ptolemaic dynasty (305–30 BC)
  • Roman Period (30 BC-641 AD)

Middle East Collection

The Middle East collection includes sculptured reliefs from the Assyrian palaces at Nineveh, Nimrud and Khorsabad, as well as exhibits from ancient sites across the Middle East as well as a vast collection of cuneiform tablets from Mesopotamia. The Middle East collections represent the civilisations of 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 Middle East collection covers the many civilisations from the following regions:
  • Mesopotamia
  • Persia
  • Arabian Peninsula
  • Anatolia
  • Syria
  • The Holy Land
  • Western Mediterranean
  • The Caucasus and  parts of Central Asia

Ancient Greece and Rome Collection

The collections from Ancient Greece and Rome at the British Museum is one of the world’s largest from the Classical world, with over 100,000 objects. They range in date from the beginning of the Ancient Greek world to the establishment of Christianity as the official religion of the Roman Empire. 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 Greek collection includes the famous sculpture from the Parthenon in Athens, as well as elements of the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus and the Temple of Artemis at Ephesos.

The Ancient Greece and Rome collection highlights include:
  • Marble figure of a Woman – Cycladic, Spedos Type
  • The Parthenon Marbles
  • The Parthenon Frieze
  • Metopes of the Parthenon
  • Pedimental Sculptures of the Parthenon
  • The Erechtheion Caryatid
  • Lion from the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus
  • Bust of Pericles
  • Aegina Treasure
  • Townley Caryatid
  • Bronze Statue of a Youth
  • Thalia, Muse of Comedy
  • Nereid Monument
  • Sarcophagus of Seianti Hanunia Tlesnasa

Britain, Europe and Prehistory Collection

The Britain, Europe and Prehistory collections include some of the earliest objects made by humans over 2 million years ago, as well as prehistoric and Neolithic artefacts from across the world plus the art and archaeology of Europe from the earliest times to the present day. The collection includes a wide-ranging selection of clocks, watches and other timepieces with masterpieces from every period in the development of time-keeping.

The Britain, Europe and Prehistory collection covers the following periods:
  • 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)
  • Early Mediaeval    (c. 4th century AD – c. 1000 AD)
  • Mediaeval    (c. 1000 AD – c. 1500 AD)
  • Renaissance to Modern    (c. 1500 AD – present)

Asia Collection

The  Asia collection has over 75,000 objects that cover the culture of the whole Asian continent from the Neolithic up to the present day. The collection includes objects initially owned by tribal cultures many of whose way of life has disappeared in the last century. Also, there is a unique collection of Japanese, Korean, paintings and calligraphy plus Chinese ceramics.

The Asia collection highlights include:

  • Ritual bronzes
  • Ceramics
  • Buddhist statues
  • Calligraphy
  • Asian Sculptures
  • Bronze figures

Africa, Oceania and the Americas Collection

The British Museum houses a comprehensive collection of Ethnographic material from Africa, Oceania and the Americas, which represent the cultures of indigenous peoples throughout the world. 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.

Africa, Oceania and the Americas collection highlights include:

  • Aztec Double-Headed Serpent
  • Hoa Hakananai’a, a Moai from Easter Island
  • Hawaiian Chief’s Feathered Helmets
  • Bronze Heads from Ife
  • Benin Ivory Mask

The Department of Prints and Drawings holds the national collection of Western prints and drawings. Since its foundation in 1808, the prints and drawings collection has grown into a rich and representative collection of nearly 50,000 drawings and over two million prints. The collection of drawings covers the period from the 14th century to the present and includes works by the leading artists of the European schools.

Prints and Drawings Collection

The collection of prints covers the tradition of fine printmaking from its beginnings in the 15th century up to the present. There are also about a million British prints including more than 20,000 satires.

The collection includes Prints and Drawings by the following artist:

  • Leonardo da Vinci
  • Raphael
  • Michelangelo
  • Dürer
  • Peter Paul Rubens
  • Rembrandt
  • Goya
  • Hogarth
  • Turner

Information on The British Museum


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– Winston Churchill


Photo Credit: JOM