One of the world's oldest museums, the British Museum is vast and its collections, only a fraction of which can be on public display at any one time, comprise millions of objects. First-time visitors generally head for the mummies, the Rosetta Stone, Lindow Man, the Lewis Chessmen and the Sutton Hoo ship burial.
Indeed, the Sutton Hoo finds provide the centrepiece for the new Sir Paul and Lady Jill Ruddock Gallery (Room 41), designed to display the museum's exceptional early medieval collection. Covering finds from across Europe from AD 300 to 1100, the Ruddock Gallery shows off not only the Anglo-Saxons' iconic Sutton Hoo masked helmet, but also late Roman mosaics and such extraordinary objects as the fourth-century Lycurgus Cup, made to change colour in different lights, and the Kells Crozier, a holy yew wood staff decorated and adapted many times from the ninth century onwards.
Enlightenment: Discovering the World in the eighteenth century is a permanent exhibition of around 5,000 objects chosen to cast light on the period between the mid-eighteenth and the early nineteenth century, a time of great discovery and learning when the British Museum was founded by an Act of Parliament. It is displayed in the restored former King’s Library – a huge neo-classical room built in the 1820s to house the books collected by George III.
Living and Dying, a permanent exhibition in the Wellcome Trust Gallery, explores the ways in which people throughout history have diagnosed and treated disease and coped with death. The exhibition considers attitudes towards burial, mourning and festivals for the dead and features an installation on Western approaches to illness. The first galleries to open as part of the BM's programme of refurbishment are a new gallery of Ancient Iran, featuring masterpieces from the Persian Empire, and a gallery focused on the prehistory of Europe and the Middle East, examining the fundamental changes to human society brought about by the birth of agriculture.
The Great Court is a vast and beautiful covered piazza, designed by Foster and Partners, surrounding the free reference library in former Round Reading Room.
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