Top 5 Little Seen Treasures of the British Museum

As part of my work with families at the British Museum,  it’s always nice to direct people to some of the treasures they might otherwise miss. It gives the visitors a more positive experience and I get to share my favourite bits with everyone who asks “What should I see while I’m here?”

So, I thought I would share my favourite ‘unseen’ bits of the museum with you.

1.The Mysterious Mermaid

I have already written about this piscean piece in an earlier adventure. Feel free to refresh yourself and have a quick game of  ‘Spot the Disney Reference’- there’s quite a few! This part monkey and part fish creature is said to have been caught 200 years ago. HRH Princess Arthur of Connaught, Duchess of Fife  who had been given the creature by one Seijiro Arisuye, donated it to the museum in 1942. You can see it in the Enlightenment gallery: go through the entrance from the Great Court and you’ll find it lurking in the large cabinet on the far wall as you walk in.

         2. The Crytal Skull

Made famous by its inclusion in a popular action-adventure franchise starring Harrison Ford, you can see – in room 24- the Real Deal. Or is it? The Crystal Skull is one of the most famous fakes in the Museum’s collection. The skull is made  from a single block of rock crystal and was acquired by the Museum in 1897 purporting to be an ancient Mexican object.

The Skull’s real history is almost as interesting as it’s pretend one; it was purchased from world-famous jeweller cum breakfast venue Tiffany & Co in 1897. Tiffany acquired it from Eugène Boban, a French antiquities dealer, and sometime adventurer.

            3. Horned Helmet

Like so many treasures, this one (from 150-50 BC) was dredged up from the muddy waters of the River Thames. This one was discovered by Waterloo Bridge  in the early 1860s and was gifted to the museum by the Port of London Authority. This helmet is unique; its the only one like it found it in Europe! You can see it in room 50.

So, it is a one of a kind… it  makes you wonder, what happened to all those horned helmets the Vikings wore? Has Hollywood lied to us?

                 4. Senet Game

During the build-up to the Olympic and Paralympic Games this year, Games became a big theme at the museum. As part of the programme of family activities we introduced visitors to the ancient Egyptian game of Senet. After playing a game or two – it is very addictive- we encouraged families to go up and see an actual Egyptian Senet board up in the galleries. You can learn a bit more about Senet and play a game of it here.

                  5. Elgin Amphora

Lord Elgin’s other contribution to the Museum’s collection is more famous and controversial his other gift is just as interesting in its own way. The amphora has been restored from pieces excavated in Athens for Lord Elgin  between 1804 and 1806. Over the years the various fragments were dispersed amongst several private collections but some very impressive Detective work has meant that the vase is virtually complete again!

These are just my highlights, if you have any more please share them!

If you liked this post, you might enjoy the British Museum themed badges at the Museum of Museum Badges.

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