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Tells the story of human history, all the way from its humble beginnings, to today's latest stories

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Egyptian Mummies
Elgin Marbles
Great Court
Parthenon Sculptures
Reading Room
Rosetta Stone
Sutton Hoo Ship

Photo juandesant
The British Museum aims to tell the story of human history, all the way from its humble beginnings, to today's latest stories. It is the oldest public museum in the world and nearly five million visitors a year come to inspect the 13 million artefacts, covering all the continents. The building itself is an architectural landmark in its own right, first opened back in the 1750s. In the intervening years between then and now, it has gone through several expansions.

In 2000, Queen Elizabeth II opened the Great Court, a central linking point for the museum, with a striking glass roof
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Did You Know?

Famous users of the Reading Room include Karl Marx, Oscar Wilde, Mahatma Gandhi, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, George Bernard Shaw, and H. G. Wells.

At the centre you will find the British Museum Reading Room, housing books covering history, art and travel
Photo Diliff
Objects in the museum stretch as far back in history as two million years ago and the collection is split broadly by geography. The Egyptian antique collection is the largest outside Cairo, the Mesopotamian antique collection is the largest outside Iraq, and the collection of prints and drawings is one of the three largest in the world.

Exploring the British Museum
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Ramesses II 1250 BC
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The Parthenon Sculptures are detailed relief marble sculptures dating from the 5th Century BC. They were brought back to England by Lord Elgin from the Parthenon, Athens
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The Rosetta Stone is a granite tablet, dating from the 2nd Century BC, that was instrumental in advancing modern understanding of Egyptian hieroglyphic writing
Photo Hans Hillewaert

The Lindow Man is a 2,000 year old body of a man, well preserved in the peat bogs of Cheshire; found in 1984, scientific analysis has shown his last meal was cereal with some mistletoe, indicating his death was an elaborate ritual
Photo in the public domain

The Sutton Hoo Ship, was the burial chamber of a anglo-saxon king, found in East Anglia in 1939 and containing many treasures including the magnificent ceremonial helmet on display
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Did You Know?

The museum has come under some criticism in recent years, from organisations who support the right of countries to own objects related to their history. Several countries have sought the return of items on display at the British Museum, including paintings, gems, and gold, to countries such as Egypt, Wales, and Nigeria. Some items have been returned as requested, but the museum points out that if every artefact was returned to its site of origin, it would mean the emptying of every museum in the world.
The museum's foundations lie in the will of the physician and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane (1660–1753). During the course of his lifetime Sloane gathered an enviable collection of curiosities and whilst not wishing to see his collection broken up after death, he bequeathed it to King George II, for the nation, for the princely sum of £20,000. Throughout its lengthy history, the museum has kept intact its fundamental beliefs – that its collection should be freely accessible to the public, and that all human cultures should try to understand one another. With a broad collection of artefacts, and free admission, those ideals are certainly part of the museums modern identity.

Sir Hans Sloane, who left his personal collection to the nation on his death in 1753 and so began the British Museum
Photo in the public domain

Did You Know?

When the museum opened in the 1700s, entry was only permitted to "studious and curious persons" - You could only go in if you were willing to learn!
Visitor Information
British Museum is open daily, 10am to 6pm. Entry is FREE. Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG. Tel: 020 7323 8299

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