The Sloane Astrolabe, part of the British Museum's founding collection

Three hours at the Museum

Take a tour through the entire history of human culture.

This three-hour trail takes you through our major galleries, showcasing the most popular objects on display.

Ground and lower floors

1. The Sloane Astrolabe (Room 1)

Crafted around 1300, this astrolabe is named for Hans Sloane, whose collection formed the basis of the British Museum. It's the earliest and largest English astrolabe to have survived from the Middle Ages and shows a knowledge of Arabic astronomy and instrumentation.

2. The Holy Thorn Reliquary

2. The Holy Thorn Reliquary (Room 2a)

Lavishly decorated with jewels and originating in France around 1400, this reliquary contains a single thorn purported to be taken from the biblical crown of thorns. It's one of a small number of goldsmiths' works surviving from the courts of the Valois royal family of medieval France.

3. Bust of Ramesses the Great (Room 4)

3. Bust of Ramesses the Great (Room 4)

This section of a larger statue, which weighs 7.5 tonnes, once sat in the Ramesseum, in Egypt, venerating Ramesses II, one of the greatest Egyptian pharaohs. Coverage of the bust's transportation to the UK is believed to have inspired Shelley's famous sonnet, Ozymandias.

4. The Rosetta Stone (Room 4)

4. The Rosetta Stone (Room 4)

The key that unlocked the hieroglyphic language of ancient Egypt, the Rosetta Stone is the Museum's most popular exhibit and one of the cornerstones of modern Egyptology. Don't leave without seeing it for yourself.

5. Assyrian lion hunt reliefs (Room 10)

5. Assyrian lion hunt reliefs (Room 10)

Originating from the ancient Mesopotamian city of Nineveh, near modern-day Mosul in Iraq, these reliefs were carved during the reign of Ashurbanipal – the last great Assyrian king – and rank among the finest known achievements of Assyrian art.

6. Parthenon sculptures (Room 18)

6. Parthenon sculptures (Room 18)

Carved about 2,500 years ago, these ancient Greek sculptures adorned the Parthenon, a temple on the Athenian Acropolis that once contained a colossal gold and ivory statue of the goddess Athena.

7. Hoa Hakananai'a (Room 24)

7. Hoa Hakananai'a (Room 24)

Sometimes described as 'the finest example of Easter Island sculpture', this statue of Hoa Hakananai'a is made distinctive by carvings that have been added to the back, associated with the island birdman cult.

8. Aztec serpent (Room 27)

8. Aztec serpent (Room 27)

Created in what is now Mexico in the 15th or 16th century, this extraordinary double-headed serpent sculpture is mostly made of turquoise pieces over a wooden base and probably had ritual significance.

9. Tang ceramic tomb figures

9. Tang ceramic tomb figures (Room 33)

This set of 13 earthenware figures was discovered in a tomb believed to belong to Liu Tingxun, a Chinese general from the 8th century. Placed in the tomb to act as guardians, the figures were decorated using the sancai ('three colours') technique, a recent innovation at the time.

10. Cloisonné jar with dragons

10. Cloisonné jar with dragons (Room 33)

The superb design on this vase marks it out as a not-to-be-missed example of the cloisonné enamel technique, developed in 15th-century China. An inscription on the neck shows that it was made under the auspices of the Yuyongjian, a division of the Imperial Household.

Upper floor

11. Mechanical galleon (Room 39)

Constructed in around 1585 in southern Germany, this elaborately but precisely designed nef (a type of table ornament) is made of gilded brass. When it worked, it would have displayed a range of automated movements – rolling forward on its wheels, emitting smoke from the cannons, and playing music – as well as functioning as a clock.

12. Lewis Chessmen (Room 40)

12. Lewis Chessmen (Room 40)

Fashioned from walrus ivory and brimming with personality, the Lewis Chessmen were made in the 12th century and discovered buried in a sand bank off the Scottish island of Lewis in 1831. They have been described as the most famous chess pieces in the world.

13. The Sutton Hoo ship burial

13. The Sutton Hoo ship burial (Room 41)

Found undisturbed in 1939, the many artefacts of the Sutton Hoo burial date back to 7th century Britain and are popularly believed to have belonged to an Anglo-Saxon king. See one of the most magnificent archaeological discoveries ever made in the UK for yourself.

14. Jade terrapin

11. Jade terrapin (Room 43)

Carved from a single piece of jade, this Terrapin was made in Mughal India, during the early 17th century, for the court of the Emperor Jahangir. It was discovered at the bottom of a well during excavations in 1803 and was subsequently bequeathed to the Museum in 1830.

15. The Hinton St Mary Mosaic

15. The Hinton St Mary Mosaic (Room 49)

Discovered in Dorset in 1963 and originally part of a Roman-period mosaic floor, the Hinton St. Mary Mosaic is believed to show an image of Jesus Christ. If so, it would be one of the earliest surviving depictions, dating back to the 4th century.

16. Basse Yutz flagons

16. Basse Yutz flagons (Room 50)

These ceremonial drinking vessels were discovered in France and produced in the 5th century BC. Once considered too sophisticated to be genuine, their manufacture points to trading links between distant areas of Europe and cultural links with Egypt.

17. Mold ceremonial gold cape

17. Mold ceremonial gold cape (Room 51)

At the centre of a stone-lined grave, found in Mold in North Wales in 1833, was a crushed gold cape around the fragmentary remains of a skeleton. Strips of bronze and numbers of amber beads were recovered, but only one of the beads reached the British Museum.

This cape is one of the finest examples of prehistoric sheet-gold working and is quite unique in form and design. The cape was restored at the British Museum during the 1960s. Before that, no one really knew its exact original shape. It dates back to the European Bronze Age.

 

18. Oxus treasure (Room 52)

18. Oxus treasure (Room 52)

Stunning examples of gold and silver metalwork found in the Oxus river, on the border of Afghanistan and Tajikistan, which date back to the Achaemenid Empire of the 5th to 3rd century BC. Together, the pieces form one of the British Museum's great collections.

19. The Flood Tablet

19. The Flood Tablet (Room 55)

The Assyrian King Ashurbanipal (reigned 669BC – 631BC) collected a library of thousands of cuneiform tablets in his palace at Nineveh. The best known of these was the story of Gilgamesh, a legendary ruler of Uruk, and his search for immortality. The Epic of Gilgamesh is a huge work, the longest piece of literature in Akkadian (the language of Babylonia and Assyria). This, the 11th tablet of the Epic, describes the meeting of Gilgamesh with Utnapishtim. Like Noah in the Hebrew Bible, Utnapishtim had been forewarned of a plan by the gods to send a great flood. He built a boat and loaded it with all his precious possessions, his kith and kin, domesticated and wild animals and skilled craftsmen of every kind.

20. Royal Game of Ur (Room 56)

20. Royal Game of Ur (Room 56)

Originally played in the early third millennium BC and once popular across the Middle East, the rules of this two-player strategy boardgame were lost to history until British Museum curator Irving Finkel decoded a cuneiform tablet containing the instructions in the early 1980s.

21. Mummy of Katebet (Room 63)

21. Mummy of Katebet (Room 63)

One of the most-studied mummies in the Museum, Katebet was a Chantress of Amun, and would have sung and performed music during rituals. Both the mummy and her accoutrements are incredibly well preserved, despite dating back to 1300 BC.

22. Sphinx of Taharqo

22. Sphinx of Taharqo (Room 65)

This statue was found in Temple T at Kawa, in Upper Nubia (Sudan). Sphinxes are associated with the sun god and are a symbol of the immense power of the Egyptian king. The human head of this sphinx is adorned with two uraei, the symbols of kingship. The face is that of Taharqo, whose name appears in the cartouche on the chest. Taharqo was one of the kings of Kush who conquered and then ruled Egypt as the 25th Dynasty (about 747–656 BC). 

23. Samurai armour (Room 92–94)

23. Samurai armour (Room 92–94)

Armour and weaponry defined the samurai's authority on the battlefield. This complete, matching set of armour was produced for a member of the powerful Mori family, who were samurai lords based in western Japan.

Lower floor

24. The Ife Head (Room 25)

A brass casting, maybe 600 years old, probably depicting Ooni, the leader of the West African Kingdom of Ife. Lifelike depictions of people such as those from Ife are unique in African art of the period and reflect important aspects of this landmark culture that existed by the lower Niger River.