Treasures from the British Museum coming to Royal BC Museum

Lillie Forteau's picture

VICTORIA, BC – A visit to the Royal BC Museum (RBCM) in the spring and summer of 2009 will be a journey through the evolution of civilization across hundreds of thousands of years and all parts of the globe.

Treasures: The World’s Cultures from the British Museum, which makes its North American premiere at the RBCM, May 1 – Sept. 30, 2009, highlights cultural achievements – the artistic, ceremonial, decorative and functional. It illustrates how cultures have come together – and come apart – through the ages. And it brings together more than 300 artifacts dating from prehistoric times to today.

“This exhibition explores nations and civilizations that have shaped our world for almost two million years,” said RBCM CEO Pauline Rafferty at an event this morning to announce the exhibition. “This is the second time the Royal BC Museum has collaborated with the British Museum. Four years ago, we presented Eternal Egypt, which remains one of our most popular exhibitions ever.”

A number of local and provincial dignitaries attended this morning’s announcement. “The Royal BC Museum is both a cherished part of our cultural heritage and an important economic driver,” said Minister Ida Chong at the event. “It adds richness to our lives and significant economic impact to our communities.”

Treasures: The World’s Cultures from the British Museum arrives at the Royal BC Museum on the heels of a highly successful, nine-city tour of Japan, Korea and China. It brings together some of the most celebrated objects from the British Museum’s renowned collection – from the oldest-known artifacts made by human hands to monumental antiquities from ancient Greece and Rome to provocative contemporary art from around the world.

“This exhibition provides a wonderful opportunity to see some of the great treasures from the British Museum's collection,” said Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum. “Visitors will be able to experience the world in one gallery.”

To complement the collection of artifacts, which are arranged by geography and chronology into seven sections, the Royal BC Museum will weave into the exhibition hands-on activities, interactive technology and a storytelling program to give visitors a glimpse into the lives of the people who created these objects.

The Royal BC Museum, a provincial crown corporation, collects, preserves and interprets artifacts, specimens and documents that tell the story of British Columbia. As the provincial museum and archives, the RBCM proudly shares that story with the world through its research, exhibitions, collections and public programs.


*  Exhibition runs from May 1 until Sept. 30, 2009 at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria, BC.
* This will be the North American premiere of Treasures: The World’s Cultures from the British Museum. The exhibition comes to the Royal BC Museum following a highly successful        nine-city Asian tour where 1.3 million people viewed the artifacts.
* The 10,000-square foot exhibition brings together 309 of the most treasured artifacts from the British Museum’s unparalleled collection, spanning more than one-and-a-half million years of human history.
* The exhibition at the Royal BC Museum includes more than 150 new treasures – not shown on the Asian tour.
* Treasures was originally assembled to celebrate the British Museum’s 250th anniversary in 2003.
* Arranged by geography and chronology into seven sections – Africa, the Middle East, Europe, Asia, Oceania, the Americas and the Modern World – Treasures is a global journey that chronicles the development of civilization through art and artifacts.
* The artifacts have been selected by the British Museum for their rarity, beauty and historical significance. Some highlights include:
+ Works by Picasso, Renoir, Matisse and Rembrandt;
+ A 3,000-year old Egyptian mummy;
+ A letter from the king of Babylon to the king of Egypt, dated 1400 BC;
+ Gold-and-gemstone jewelry; ancient papyrus; bronze and marble statues; gold and silver coins; housewares; and military hardware from all eras and continents;
+ The largest artifact: a marble statue of Dionysos, the god of wine, carved in Rome in the 2nd century (1.71 m tall, 750 kg);
+ The oldest artifact: Palaeolithic handaxes from Africa, 1.4 - 1.6 million years old.


* The exhibition presents universal themes common to all peoples and societies: religious, political, economic, technological, artistic and social.
* This exhibition is the second collaboration between the Royal BC Museum and the British Museum. In 2004, Eternal Egypt: Masterworks of Ancient Art from the British Museum attracted some 330,000 visitors.
* Special exhibit programming is being planned for visitors, educators and BC students:

o A hands-on activity space for explorers of all ages – inspired by the ‘Enlightenment Gallery’ in the British Museum;
o Summer camps for youth;
o Entertainers and storytellers.


* This exhibition is proudly supported by a number of organizations, including: London Drugs (Lead Sponsor); Tourism Victoria (Lead Marketing Partner); and Canwest (Media Sponsor), which includes the Global BC, CHEK News, Times Colonist, and Vancouver Sun.


Since its foundation in 1753, the aim of the British Museum has always been to gather into one building objects from the whole world, past and present, so that visitors from across the world could compare the ways in which different societies had organized themselves and different peoples had addressed the common problems of humanity. After over 250 years of collecting and research, the collection today allows the whole world to look at what it has made – from the very first tools that our ancestors crafted in Africa nearly two million years ago, to contemporary art from around the world. The Treasures exhibition reflects this global reach and supports the museum’s founding principles.

Neil MacGregor - Director of the British Museum

The British Museum 

Born into the Age of Enlightenment, the British Museum was founded by Act of Parliament in 1753 as the world’s first national public museum. Established to promote knowledge and understanding of the world, it was intended for the ‘general use and benefit’ of all citizens. The extraordinary collection of natural history specimens and human-made objects bequeathed to the British nation by the physician and naturalist Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) provided its foundation.

Originally housed in Montagu House in central London, the collection has since the mid-19th century been held in the famous Greek Revival building designed by Sir Robert Smirke (1780-1867). Over time, the natural history collections and the library were transferred to newly founded specialist institutions; the focus of the British Museum became the acquisition, preservation and interpretation of material culture – from the earliest known human artifacts to the works of living societies. Today, working in partnership with museums and institutions across the world, the British Museum is able to share its collection with more people than ever before. 

Today the British Museum holds a collection of over seven million objects built up over more than 250 years. It is one of the greatest resources in the world for the study of human cultures.

In their variety and range, the treasures in this exhibition represent the British Museum’s collection as it is presented in London. Through these works, visitors are able to explore human experience across societies and across time – and in doing so, it becomes possible to inform the understanding of the modern day world. 


Treasures: The World’s Cultures from the British Museum, at the RBCM May 1 - Sept. 30, celebrates the objects that define human culture – travelling across hundreds of thousands of years and through all parts of the world. More than 300 artifacts from the renowned British Museum collection, including a 3,000-year-old Egyptian mummy, a shield from the Bronze Age and works from the likes of Picasso and Rembrandt, will be on display at the RBCM during the exhibition’s five-month run.

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Feature photo:

Credit: © The Trustees of the British Museum

AD 1800s
Gilded iron
When the custom of samurai carrying swords ended in 1876, many swordsmiths turned to the production of articulated metal models. The neck, body, legs and tail of this iron dragon are all moveable.