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In a collection of more than seven million objects, the British Museum narrates two million years of world history and culture.
Celebrated for such treasures as the Rosetta Stone, Egyptian mummies and the Parthenon sculptures, its collections cover archaeology, world cultures, science, decorative and applied arts, and prints and drawings. The world's major civilisations are explored in the museum's lively programme of blockbuster exhibitions.
The British Museum won the 2011 Art Fund Prize for its groundbreaking project A History of the World, which included the highly successful 100-part series of the same name on BBC Radio 4.
Founded in 1753, the museum has gradually expanded. In 2000 it unveiled the Great Court, a glass-covered internal courtyard, in the area formerly occupied by the British Library. In spring 2014 the largest development in the museum's history was unveiled. The World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre houses new conservation and science laboratories and the stunning new Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery, a purpose-designed space that will allow the museum to stage ever more ambitious exhibitions.
Apart from the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, the British Museum is home to the most comprehensive collection of Egyptian antiquities in the world, spanning some 11,000 years of history. Of the seven permanent galleries, those on the second floor are the most compelling, housing the unparalleled collection of mummies and coffins. Don't miss the Rosetta Stone, the key to our contemporary understanding of hieroglyphs.
The significant collection of Greek and Roman objects covers the Greek Bronze Age to the 4th century AD. The star attractions are the contentious Parthenon sculptures from the Acropolis, and the galleries also feature figures and a frieze from the astonishing Mausoleum of Halikarnassus and the Temple of Artemis from Ephesus – two of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.
The Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo treasure – one of the most important finds in British archaeology – has recently been given more prominence with a spectacular new display which links it to other cultures featured in the museum.
The museum's world culture galleries are some of its most fascinating. In the Africa galleries there are the outstanding Benin Bronzes. The applied arts of China and Japan are well represented, while the galleries of Islamic art are some of the largest in the world, including paintings, pottery and glassware. The Middle Eastern galleries are dominated by the extensive collection of Mesopotamian artefacts.
Home to the national collection of prints and drawings, the British Museum's holdings extend from the 14th century to the present day, and include works by all the major European and British artists.
Art Funded works
The Vale of York Viking Hoard, funded in 2009, includes objects from a variety of regions and nations that speak persuasively of the contemporary growth and diversity of trade networks.
Of the many studies Michelangelo produced for the Sistine Chapel, his study for the figure of Adam, acquired in 1926, is among the finest.
While both the Gallery Café and the two smaller Court cafés provide all the homemade light meals (and excellent cakes) one could require, the British Museum's Court Restaurant offers something rather more special – European classics under the glass roof of the Great Court.