The British Museum, located in the Bloomsbury area of London, houses a vast collection of works and artefacts covering all continents and illustrating the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present. The museum was founded in 1753, largely based on the collections of the physician and scientist Sir Hans Sloane. The expansion of the museum's collection occurred in parallel to the widening British colonial presence over the following two and a half centuries.
Today, the museum's collection includes over 8 million works. Below is a list of top highlights:
1. Rosetta stone 2. Parthenon sculptures 3. Lewis chessmen 4. The Portland vase 5. Assyrian Lamassu
1. The Rosetta Stone is found in the Reading room of the British Museum. It dates from around 332BC and its inscription – in hieroglyphic, demotic and Greek – is a holy decree affirming the royal cult of the 13-year-old Ptolemy V. It was a valuable key to the decipherment of hieroglyphs in the early 19th century.
2. Parthenon sculptures are the group of sculptures found in the Room 18 of the British Museum which once decorated the outside of the Parthenon, a temple dated 447-432 BC and dedicated to the goddess Athena located on the Acropolis of Athens. The pediments and metopes illustrate episodes from Greek mythology, while the frieze represents the people of contemporary Athens in religious procession.
3. Lewis chessmen constitute one of the few complete surviving medieval chess sets which is considered to be made in Norway about AD 1150-1200. Found buried on the Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, they are probably the most well-known archaeological find from Scotland. The chess pieces consist of elaborately worked walrus ivory and whales' teeth in the forms of seated kings and queens, mitred bishops, knights on their mounts, standing warders and pawns in the shape of obelisks.
4. The Portland Vase thought to be made in Italy about AD 5-25 is the most famous cameo-glass vessel from antiquity. It was entrusted to the British museum by its owner, the fourth Duke of Portland. It was restored after a drunken visitor smashed it in 1845 while on display, inflicting serious damage. The scenes on the Portland Vase depict love and marriage with a mythological theme. Likely to be conceived as a wedding gift, the Portland vase, was made by the dip-overlay method, whereby an elongated bubble of glass was partially dipped into a crucible (fire-resistant container) of white glass, before the two were blown together. After cooling the white layer was cut away to form the design. The cutting was probably performed by a skilled gem-cutter.
5. Assyrian Lamassu is one of a pair of guardian figures consisting of winged human-headed bulls set up in the palace of Ashurnasirpal II (883-859 BC) at the Assyrian capital Kalhu. Its partner is now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. The pair was designed to protect the palace from demonic forces, and may even have guarded the entrance to the private apartments of the king. The figure has five legs, so that when viewed from the front it stands firm, while when viewed from the side it appears to be striding forward to combat evil.
The museum is open every day from 10am to 5.30pm (8.30pm on Fridays) and entry is free