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

Three hours at the Museum trail

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. 

Lower and Ground 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. Assyrian lion hunt reliefs (Room 10)

3. 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.

4. Parthenon sculptures (Room 18)

4. 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.

5. The Rosetta Stone (replica within Room 1)

5. 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.

6. Bust of Ramesses the Great (Room 4)

6. 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.

7. The Ife Head

7. 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.

8. Hoa Hakananai'a (Room 24)

8. Hoa Hakananai'a (Room 24)

This statue, known as Hoa Hakananai'a, comes from the ritual centre of Orongo on Rapa Nui (Easter Island). Carved from basalt, it has carvings on the back associated with the islanders' birdman cult. It is of great significance to the people of Rapa Nui today.

9. Aztec serpent (Room 27)

9. 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.

Upper floor

10. 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.

11. Mold ceremonial gold cape

11. 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.


12. Basse Yutz flagons

12. 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.

13. The Hinton St Mary Mosaic

13. 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.

14. Jade terrapin

14. 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 Sutton Hoo ship burial

15. 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.

16. Lewis Chessmen (Room 40)

16. 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.

17. Mechanical galleon

17. 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.

18. Royal Game of Ur (Room 56)

18. 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.

19. The Flood Tablet

19. The Flood Tablet (Room 55)

The Assyrian King Ashurbanipal (reigned 669–631BC) 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. Sphinx of Taharqo

20. 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). 

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. Samurai armour (Room 92–94)

22. Samurai armour (Room 93)

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.