Egyptian mummy mask, The Department of Scientific Research

Scientific study of the British Museum collection

The British Museum has world-class laboratory facilities for scientific research on the collection and employs a team of scientists.

The Museum also makes the collection available for scientific examination and analysis by external researchers.

Application process

Application process

The Museum receives many requests to access collection material for external scientific research.

Review panel

To safeguard the collection, all requests are subject to a review process following a formal application procedure.

Decisions to permit access are based on the expert opinions of a review panel made up of British Museum curators and scientists with relevant expertise.

Occasionally, the review panel may invite the opinion of external experts to support their decisions. Vulnerable objects may also require conservation assessment.

Requests involving human remains will need a detailed assessment to comply with the Human Tissue Act 2004.

We need to ensure that such material is treated with appropriate respect, care and dignity.

British Museum policy on Human Remains

Please note: requests for access to human remains in the collection that are the subject of a claim for transfer cannot be granted while the outcome of the claim is pending.

Application criteria

All applications are assessed on the following criteria:

  • The scholarly merit of the proposal
  • The feasibility of the project
  • The appropriateness of the proposed scientific techniques/methods to answer the questions posed
  • Experience and expertise of the research team in applying these techniques/methods
  • Previous work undertaken on similar material
  • The fragility of the material in question
  • Sample sizes required in relation to the size and rarity/uniqueness of the object
  • Other immediate or long term impact on the object(s), including risks associated with exposure of object(s) to ionising or non-ionising radiation
  • Experience of the research team in working with museum material
  • Anticipated outputs of the research (publications, etc.)
  • Health and safety implications

Applicants are expected to indicate thorough knowledge of previous work undertaken (citing appropriate references).

The potential of novel techniques should have been demonstrated on model material in advance of their application to museum samples.

Further information may be requested, and this will also be subject to review.

Please submit your application as far in advance of the deadline as possible, as access at short notice cannot be guaranteed. 

Applicants are encouraged to make an honest assessment of the likelihood of success/risk of failure of the project.

Small-scale pilot studies on collection material prior to a full-scale study may be suggested in certain cases.

We may ask applicants to collaborate on work when we receive two or more requests for the same area.

We may also suggest collaboration with British Museum scientists, particularly where the Museum has a research interest in the area or if the material concerned is very fragile.

Human remains

For requests relating to materials of human origin, applicants may wish to consult the following guidance documents from the APABE (Advisory Panel on the Archaeology of Burials in England) and DCMS (Department for Culture, Media and Sport):

‘Science and the Dead: A guideline for the destructive sampling of archaeological human remains for scientific c analysis’ (2013)

‘Guidance for Best Practice for the Treatment of Human Remains Excavated from Christian Burial Grounds in England’ (2017)

‘Guidance for the Care of Human Remains in Museums’ (2005)

How to apply

To apply to use samples for scientific study or to conduct non-destructive analysis of British Museum material, please fill out the appropriate form below:

Application form EE1 (standard)

Application form EE2 (human remains)

Please email forms to science@britishmuseum.org

We recommend you discuss your request with the relevant curator before submitting an application.

The Review Panel meets to assess requests four times a year and applications should be submitted by the deadlines indicated.

Applicants will be notified of a decision within one month of the Review Panel meeting.

Forthcoming submission deadlines

Please keep checking this page for dates.

Conditions

If permission is granted, the following conditions will apply:

  • All analytical data and results must be made available, in confidence and prior to publication, to the appropriate department of the British Museum
  • The Museum shall be allowed to make these data publicly available five years after they are received, whether or not they have been published elsewhere
  • All residual samples remain the property of the British Museum (all mounted and residual samples shall be returned to the British Museum within one year unless otherwise agreed)
  • Samples may only be used for the purpose(s) outlined in the application (any other purpose must be the subject of a further application)
  • Two copies of any publications arising from the work must be provided
  • Any agreed costs of sampling by British Museum staff shall be paid by the applicant
  • Previous conduct in respect of these conditions will be taken into account when reviewing subsequent applications.
  • The British Museum may also consult with other institutions when assessing applications, particularly if samples have been requested from several collections.