We visited London recently and had a free Sunday afternoon to visit somewhere new. We’d decided to go to the British Museum as it was somewhere we had never been before as a family. With free entry, it is a great place to visit and there is something for everyone.
With the children in primary school, a lot of their learning is around the ancient world of the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks and as far back as the iron and stone ages. The British Museum is jam packed with artefacts from all over the world and despite being called the British Museum, it’s dedicated to human history, art and culture with its permanent collection of eight million works being amongst the largest and most comprehensive in existence. It documents the story of human culture from its beginnings to the present.
The British Museum Explorer Trails
The British Museum is vast, and it will be impossible to see everything in one day, no matter how dedicated you are. The collections in the museum are broken down into trails to follow, with leaflets being available to download for free before you visit. We decided to download all the trails that were aimed at age 6+ and using our iPad it made for a really family friendly visit to the museum. The children loved being in control!
Our first trail was Ancient Egypt as both of the children have covered the topic. The trail is well laid out on the document, and each room is well signed in real life. We did however, find that on our way to the start, we were distracted by so many other artefacts that caught our eyes!
The children enjoyed taking it in turns to read the information from the trail before we sought out the exhibit in question to see it with our own eyes. It was hard to believe that many of the artefacts we saw were literally thousands of years old and still in relatively good condition with vibrant colours and carved details visible as if they had just been made. The trails also had questions to inspire imaginations and prompt discussions within the family.
As we followed the Ancient Egyptian trail, we discovered the Egyptian animal section. Troy was both equally pleased and fascinated about the Egyptian love for cats and he loved the cat shaped mini mummies’ He was a little perturbed to learn that they actually contained mummified cats!
Our Ancient Egyptian trail ended with the magnificent Rosetta Stone, which helped to decipher the strange Egyptian Hieroglyphics that had puzzled the world until its discovery in the early 19th Century. The trail took us about an hour to complete with regular stops to examine artefacts in more detail as they drew our attention
We also planned on completing the Ancient Greece trail as this topic is coming up in depth later this year for LP. We marvelled at the age of the artefacts on display, many without cabinets as is the case throughout the whole museum. It was interesting to see the similarities and stark differences between the Greeks and Egyptians whose civilisations overlapped along with that of Ancient Rome.
The star of this exhibit was the controversial Parthenon Sculptures, formerly known as the Elgin Marbles. This magnificent range of marble sculptures of more than 80 meters was removed from the Parthenon by the then British Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, Lord Elgin, in 1802, and shipped to England where they have remained ever since.
Made between 447BC and 432BC, they consist mostly of a frieze which shows the commemoration of the birthday of the goddess Athena. Our Athena knows she was named after this particular Greek Goddess, and the presence of the sculptures here in London sparked a great discussion with the children about who the sculptures rightfully belong to and why they are still in London, despite not really having anything to directly do with the UK. It was great to get the opportunity to see such an ancient, priceless work of art up close, but it did make us all question why they were taken in the first place.
We couldn’t leave the museum on our first visit without seeing the Anglo-Saxon Sutton Hoo ship burial artefacts. This is an extremely rare find of what is thought to be an Anglo-Saxon King’s burial ship, discovered in Sussex. It contained Byzantine silverware, gold jewellery, a feasting set, and, most famously, an ornate iron helmet. It dates from around 600 AD and is remarkably well preserved. There are only four known complete helmets in existence from Anglo-Saxon England.
Our afternoon at the British Museum ended with a reasonable priced tea, coffee and cake and a well-deserved half hour sit down before hitting the gift shop. The whole building is an architectural marvel and we could’ve spent hours just looking at the massive glass dome in the Great Court.
If you’ve only a limited time in London, this is a must-see place. You can pick out what you want to see before you visit by using the website and by following a trail, they’re not all aimed at young children and families!
Find out more over on the British Museum website. For reference, the British Museum address is: Great Russell Street London WC1B 3DG