The Museum’s collections can be conveniently divided into seven sections, each with a geographical designation:
Ancient Egypt – the largest collection of Egyptian antiquities outside Cairo, including the Rosetta Stone and the BM’s celebrated collection of mummies and other funerary objects.
Ancient Greece and Rome – a staggering range of exhibits, spread over nearly 20 galleries, including the controversial Parthenon Sculptures (more popularly known as the Elgin Marbles).
Ancient Near East – exquisite sculpted reliefs from Nimrud and Nineveh, the ancient capitals of the Assyrian Empire, together with objects from Mesopotamia, some of which date back as far as 6,000 BC.
Americas and Africa – the two smallest collections, but among my favourites, incorporating some wonderful artifacts.
Europe – covering a huge time span, from 10,000 BC to the present day, with galleries on Medieval Europe and Roman Britain, amongst others.
Asia – artifacts from China, Japan, India and Korea.
There are also four themed galleries: one devoted to clocks and watches; another to the history of money; a third entitled ‘Living and Dying’, which explores the way in which people from different cultures deal with the realities of life and death; and the fourth, one of my favorite places in the entire Museum – the Enlightenment Gallery.
Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind
The British Museum’s latest major exhibition, Ice Age Art: Arrival of the Modern Mind (£10, concessions available), which runs from 7 February until 26 May 2013, showcases some extraordinary objects from a time so distant we can barely comprehend it – figurative art created in Europe and Central Asia between 40,000 and 10,000 years ago.
This is a very special opportunity to see some of the oldest artworks in the world – drawings and portraits, and carvings in bone, stone, antler and ivory, of both people and animals. Exhibits include the celebrated Venus of Lespugue (pictured, left), discovered in a cave in the Pyrenees in 1922 and reckoned to be between 24,000 and 20,000 years old. The tiny figurine, only 6 inches (150 mm) high, is carved from tusk ivory, and its exaggerated representation of the female form is said to have influenced Picasso.
Need a break?
If you should find yourself flagging during the course of your explorations, and in need of sustenance, the British Museum has three cafés, two of which are located in the Great Court, and a (rather pricey) restaurant, which you can find by climbing the stairs on either side of the Reading Room.
Or, if you simply fancy a quick, cheap, fortifying bite to eat, grab a hot dog from the vendor outside the main gates (the whiff of cooked onions is hard to resist, and I’ll admit that I’ve indulged once or twice).