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  • photo by Nicola Melideo
  • British Museum London
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  • Photos by Petulia
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Walk Description

The Rosetta Stone, the Parthenon Marble, and the Assyrian lion hunt are just some of the many art treasures we’ll cover in this three-hour, in-depth tour of the British Museum. Led by a trained archaeologist or historian, this walk is one of our most popular sightseeing tours of London. By limiting our group size to no more than six people, we’re able to take a deeper approach to the collections and conduct the visit like a true walking seminar.

  • Expert docent trained in history or archaeology
  • A insider's visit to the British Museum
  • Small group—6 people max

Our Visit

Although on any given day our tour may unfold differently depending on our docent's area of expertise and the interests of the group, we generally start with a thorough overview of how the British Museum came into existence in the mid-eighteenth century with a visit to the Enlightenment Gallery, formerly known as the King’s Library; this room was the first part of the new museum building as it is seen today. Here we will look at how the discipline of archaeology evolved—in this very room!—from the work of antiquaries. We'll also look at how art history was born here with the study of ancient Greek sculpture and vase painting, and how Greek art set the standard for the next 200 years of what was considered the model of fully-evolved art. For people interested in intellectual history, we've arrived at a major crossroads. (To dig deeper take a look at our Labyrinth walk of the Soane Museum.

Antiquities & the Rosetta Stone

From here we will traverse the halls of the museum, visiting its most important rooms. This includes the Egyptian collection. Here, we will discuss how ancient texts came to be deciphered in the first place and we will compare the ways in which hieroglyphs and cuneiform, the two earliest scripts, were cracked.

We will also look at several of the antiquities and languages of ancient Iraq and Iran, as material from these areas forms some of the earliest collections in the British Museum. Large-scale excavation in the ancient Middle East and the race to decipher hieroglyphic and cuneiform scripts were inspired by the finds from Mesopotamia and Persia. The beginnings of the British Museum are inextricably tied to the European re-discovery of these ancient cultures.

Our discussion will be illustrated by the Rosetta Stone, which now lives in the British Museum, along with nearly 130,000 pieces of cuneiform tablets from ancient Iraq, some of which are on display. Depending on the interests of our docent and the group, we may then spend time looking more in-depth at the art of ancient Iran and/or of ancient Iraq in its earlier phases, before taking in the palace reliefs of ancient Assyrian kings that form the best collection of ancient Iraqi sculpture outside Baghdad. Or, we'll spend the rest of our time looking at the Parthenon Marbles.

For a different view of archaeology in London, see our Hidden London tour.

Take Aways

"Our docent's enthusiasm for this subject was contagious" is a refrain we hear often on this walk. Indeed, this is one of our goals: To focus on the inspiring, world-historical events that have taken place in and around the British Museum and the objects she houses, and impart a sense of wonder and appreciation among the tour participants. At the end of our time together we will emerge with a better understanding of this major institution and the key role it continues to play in intellectual life worldwide.

Duration: 3 hours
Category: Archaeology
Venues: British Museum
  • Profile_thumb

    Caroline Barron

    After a very happy time leading walks for Context in Rome, Caroline returned to her native London to complete a Ph.D at King's College London which conisdered the acquisition of Roman antiquities - and primarily Latin inscriptions - by the Grand Tourists of the 18th century. The project was closely connected with the British Museum, which is also conveniently one of her favourite London destinations. When not leading walks for Context, Caroline can usually be found in the British Library, teaching Undergraduate courses in the Classics department at KCL, or in one of London's many lovely parks with her dog.

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    Sue King

    Sue King was born a Londoner and has lived in several other cities including Seoul, Berlin and Washington DC. Since returning to London, she has spent the last three years studying its art, architecture, literature and history.
    Sue holds a research MPhil in History of Art from the Barber Institute, Birmingham University and has specialist knowledge of Victorian Britain through her study of its painting and literature. Her thesis, on symbolism in Victorian Art, focused on the work of the Pre-Raphaelites and she has also made studies in 20th Century American art.
    Sue is fascinated by London's history and is most interested in the artists and writers who have helped to define it. She loves to recount stories of their lives and works, and their connections with each other and the city.

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    Jim Harris

    Jim came to art history relatively late. After training at RADA and working as an actor and musician in theatre and television for over a decade, he arrived at the Courtauld Institute of Art where he took a BA, MA and PhD, writing his doctoral thesis on Donatello. He held two Postdoctoral and Research Fellowships at the Courtauld, undertaking research on sculpture during the English reformation and revolution, before taking up his current post as Teaching Curator at the Ashmolean Museum in the University of Oxford. Jim is a Londoner, a dad and a cyclist, and would usually rather be at Lord's, watching the cricket.

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    Lawrence Owens

    Lawrence travelled and excavated extensively in Israel, Jordan and Egypt before attending the University of Durham where he studied archaeology. He specialised in ancient human remains during his Masters' at Liverpool University Medical School, followed by a year of travel and excavation in the UK and Africa. He won a scholarship to attend University College London, where he wrote his Doctorate on ancient populations of the Western Mediterranean basin and the Canary Islands. He currently lecture at Birkbeck College, University of London. He carries out research at London's Natural History Museum and spends several months each year working on a major archaeological project in Peru. He is also connected with excavations in Egypt, Bolivia, California, Sierra Leone, Ghana and Spain, where he works with a forensic unit recovering the fallen from the 1936-1939 Spanish Civil War. In addition to his research, he has interests in the classical world, ancient Assyria, geology, palaeontology, twentieth century art history and the history of London.

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    Kevin Childs

    Kevin Childs has worked as a publisher, an actor and a research consultant. Having gained a first class degree in English Literature at Oxford and an MA at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, he has completed a PhD at the Courtauld examining the ways in which Michelangelo influenced the art of his contemporaries. Although his heart is in the Renaissance, his interests range from Greek and Roman classical literature to the art of twentieth-century Mexico. Kevin has lived in London for over 20 years and has a great passion for the city, its history and all that it currently offers. He has also spent extended periods of time in Italy, Greece, Turkey, Mexico, Egypt and Morocco. He writes regularly on art and travel.

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    Alex Rodriguez

    Alex Rodriguez Suarez is currently completing his doctoral research in Byzantine history at King's College London. A transplant from Barcelona, Alex began giving tours of buildings of La Ruta del Modernisme in Barcelona in 2006, when he became an official guide of the Catalan government. He moved to London in order to pursue his passion, the world of Byzantium. Since 2007 he has been working at the NPG, where he also gives Gallery Talks. Alex loves history but also is interested in art and architecture and has a passion for visiting British country homes and archaeological sites all over.

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    Tony Anderson

    Tony Anderson was born and grew up in London, and has lived there since university. He has a great wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm about his “home town”, particularly since qualifying as a Blue Badge guide in 2002. His speciality is the extraordinary history and development of London both as a royal city, a place of government and as a centre of enterprise and culture, through its palaces, churches, museums and galleries. He now works full time in guiding, and loves to share his fascination for the enormous variety of interests and experiences on offer in London and South East England.

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    Anna Harnden tryon

    Anna Harnden is an independent curator working on historic and contemporary exhibitions for public institutions such as the British Museum as well as contemporary commercial exhibitions at her own gallery. Having lived in London for over eight years and working within and with many of its institutions, Anna enjoys providing the occasional 'behind the scenes' moments as part of her tours.

    Throughout her career she has curated exhibitions and displays for the British Museum including Treasures of Heaven: Saints, relics and devotion in Medieval Europe and historic and contemporary collections in Treasures of the World's Culture. Prior to this she managed the Southwark Art Collection and worked at The Wallace Collection. Whilst studying for a BA in History of Art and an MA in curating at the Courtauld Institute she co-curated the contemporary art exhibition East Wing VIII On Time including Anthony Gormley and Mark Wallinger and the exhibition Once Upon a Time Artists and Storytelling including Paul Gauguin and Tracey Emin.

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    Andrew Roberts

    Andrew completed a PhD in Classics at King's College London where he specialised in how the Classical world shaped British politics and culture. His research interests range from Ancient Greece to the British empire, and he has tutored secondary school children everything from Tudor England to the Second World War. Andrew especially loves the eclectic historical landscape of London which allows one to fine ancient ruins or historic pubs amongst the modern city. He teaches ancient history to undergraduates at King's College London and is a keen cyclist and runner.