Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The British Museum

The British Museum is a museum of human history and culture in London and its collections are amongst the largest and most comprehensive in the world. It was founded in 1753 when physician and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) bequeath his entire collection of books, natural history specimens, prints, drawings and antiquities from Eygpt, Greeece, Rome, the Far East and the Americas to the nation. Today, it no longer houses the collection of natural history which is now under the British Museum of Natural History at South Kensington while its collection of books and manuscripts is now part of the independent British Library. Nevertheless, the Museum retains an extensive number of artefacts representing the cultures of the world, ancient and modern. It is especially renownned for its collection of antiquities from Egypt and Sudan, with Sir Hans Sloane's original collection enhanced by those confiscated by the British army after the defeat of Napoeon's French forces at the Battle of the Nile in 1801. The Museum also supported excavations in Egypt throughout the 20th Century until changes in antiquities laws in Egypt led to the suspension of policies allowing finds to be exported. Egytian mummies and coffins remain the most eagerly sought exhibits by visitors at the Museum. There is something about the curses of the mummies and stories of violent deaths of its excavators that hold the lure to visitors from all around the world. With its vast collection of ancient treasures, the British Museum is also a target of criticisms and controversy. The Elgin Marbles from Greece, the Benin Bronzes of Nigeria and the Rosetta Stone are among the most disputed objects in its collections and organisations have been formed demanding the return of these artefacts to their native countries.

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