The British Museum - The world’s oldest national public museum

Kaweesa Abubakr 02/17/2024
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British Museum Entrance

Image: FORTLOC/Khalid Bari

Often the subject of controversy because of the stories behind some of its acquisitions, the museum continues to draw large crowds and remains one of London's most popular tourist attractions.


British Museum

Image: FORTLOC/Khalid Bari

The museum is a free-to-visit public institution with an extensive collection encompassing eight million objects that span a staggering two million years of human history.


British Museum

Image: FORTLOC/Khalid Bari

Founded in 1753 by a parliamentary act, the British Museum opened its doors to the public in 1759. At the time, visitors had to apply for tickets; however, this was overturned in the 1830s, with the museum eventually becoming freely accessible to all.

Initially housed in a refurbished 17th-century mansion known as the Montagu House, the museum's collection continued to grow, and it quickly became apparent that the mansion would not be able to hold the increasing numbers of artifacts and visitors.

Architect Sir Rober Smirker was commissioned to design a new home for the museum, and in 1823, the museum moved to its current location in Bloomsbury. Over the years, the museum has added new wings and galleries to accommodate its growing collection and visitors, resulting in a complex yet marvelous architectural ensemble.

The initial collection of the British Museum was a donation from Sir Hans Sloane, a prominent physician, naturalist, and collector, who, upon his death in 1753, donated his collection to the nation on the condition that it be made available for public consumption.

Top Attractions

There’s a vast array of artifacts on display at the British Museum; however, many who've been there will agree that the following are absolute must-sees:

1. Egyptian Mummies

Egyptian Mummy at British Museum

Image: FORTLOC/Khalid Bari

Wrapped in linen bandages and placed in coffins, the Egyptian mummies are human and animal remains preserved by ancient Egyptians for the afterlife. The British Museum houses the largest collection of mummies outside Cairo, so fans of Egyptian history will certainly not be disappointed. Some of the most famous mummies in the collection are Katebet, Arsinoe II (Cleopatra's sister), and Gebelein.

2. The Sutton Hoo Helmet

Sutton Hoo Helmet at British Museum

Image: FORTLOC/Khalid Bari

A remarkable illustration of Anglo-Saxon artistry from the 7th century AD, the Sutton Hoo Helmet is made of iron, bronze, silver, and gold, decorated with animal motifs and interlace patterns. The helmet is part of the Sutton Hoo treasure, a collection of artifacts unearthed from an ancient burial heap in Suffolk, England.

3. Lewis Chessmen

Lewis Chessmen at British Museum

Image: FORTLOC/Khalid Bari

The Lewis Chessmen are a couple of carved ivory chess pieces from the 12th century AD. Found in the Isle of Lewis, Scotland, in 1831, the pieces are believed to have originated from either Norway or Iceland and are considered by some to be the oldest leisure objects ever found. They were featured in the movie Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone.

4. Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta stone tablet is among the most celebrated artifacts in the British Museum; in fact, it is the most visited item in the museum. Discovered in 1799 by French soldiers and later acquired by the British, the stone features inscriptions in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script, and ancient Greek.

Interactive Experiences

Augmented Reality

British Museum

Image: FORTLOC/Khalid Bari

Audio Guide

The Museum's audio guide provides information, stories, and insights about the objects on display and can be rented at the museum or accessed through an app.

While it's often at the center of controversy, the British Museum remains one of the world's best-known museums. It hosts a stockpile of artifacts offering an insight into human history, art, and culture, showcasing the diversity and richness of human civilization throughout time.

The museum also constantly enriches its collection through acquisitions, donations, and research with the goal of offering new perspectives and insights on the past and present and maybe inspire future generations.




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