British Museum

Museums, History

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One of the world's oldest museums, the BM is vast and its collections, only a fraction of which can be on public display at any 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. Enlightenment: Discovering the World in the 18th Century is a permanent exhibition of around 5,000 objects chosen to cast light on the period between the mid-18th and the early 19th 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 peoples throughout history have diagnosed and treated disease and coped with death. The exhibition considers attitudes towards burial and 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, which is open Sun-Wed 9am-6pm, Thur-Sat 9am-11pm, 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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