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A year of success for the British Museum – 260 years in the making


The British Museum (BM) has launched the Annual Review 2012/13, celebrating the successes of the previous year and looking forward to future activity.

In 2012 the BM was once again the leading visitor attraction in the UK (with 5.575 million visitors) and a virtual audience of 27.3 million. One in four augustus rome british museumoverseas visitors to London and one in ten overseas visitors to the UK now visit the British Museum as part of their trip.

 In 2012 the BM was once again the leading visitor attraction in the UK (with 5.575 million visitors) and a virtual audience of 27.3 million. One in four overseas visitors to London and one in ten overseas visitors to the UK now visit the British Museum as part of their trip.

In London

The first part of 2013 has seen a big increase in visitor numbers, onsite visits in May were 42% up on the previous year and were the highest on record. As of the 24 June the Museum had received 1.7 million visitors since the start of the financial year, a 25% increase on the previous year, and a virtual audience of 9 million. The BM's audience is diverse, varied and above all young, with 43% of visitors aged between 16-34. 30% of the Museum's audience visit as a family group.

Ice Age Art closed in early June with over 90, 000 visitors, a 133% increase on the original target of 40, 000. Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, sponsored by Goldman Sachs, achieved its original visitor target of 250, 000 in 3 months of a 6 month run and is on course to be the third most popular charging exhibition in the BM’s history. Pompeii Live from the British Museum was a sell out across many of the 280 cinemas that broadcast it across the country. Nearly 35, 000 people saw the evening broadcast and over 12, 000 school children saw the schools version the following morning. An international broadcast of the ‘Live’ to over 1, 000 cinemas worldwide will commence in late August.

2012/13 has seen great progress on the construction of the Museum’s new project the World Conservation and Exhibitions Centre. Designed by Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners (RSHP) and constructed by Mace, the new Centre will cement the British Museum’s reputation as a world leader in the exhibition, conservation, examination and analysis of cultural objects from across the globe. The WCEC will enable the Museum to store, conserve, study and display the collection for the future. The Sainsbury Exhibitions Gallery will open in March 2014 and the conservation and science studios, loans hub and collections storage will be occupied by June 2014.

british museum great court

The collection is of paramount importance and thanks to the generosity of individual and corporate donors, the Art Fund, the National Heritage Memorial Fund and the British Museum Friends, the Museum has been able to acquire some significant objects in the past year. Key highlight acquisitions include: the extraordinary and cinematic ‘Perry Scroll’ which documents the moment in 1854 when the mission of the US Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Japan and ended two centuries of Japanese seclusion (acquired with the help of the Brooke Sewell bequest, Bequest, JTI Japanese Acquisition Fund, gold bracelet in form of snake pompeiiBritish Museum Friends, Noriko and Shigeru Myojin, Dounia and Sherif Nadar, Adeela Qureshi, Richard de Unger and Mitsubishi Corporation); the Hockley Pendant, a 16th century gold reliquary found by a four year old in Essex (acquired with the help of the Art Fund and the British Museum Friends); and the Art Fund Collection of Middle Eastern Photography which includes a diverse range of contemporary works.

Future galleries include a major redisplay of the gallery of early modern Europe, looking at the wider world of Sutton Hoo. This has been made possible by a generous donation from Sir Paul and Lady Ruddock. The BM’s collections on this period are among the best in the world and reach from North Africa to Scandinavia and from the Atlantic to the Asian Steppes. The new Gallery will open in March 2014.


The past year has confirmed the Museum’s growing reputation as a centre for world class original research with important discoveries and significant new financial investment. Research ranges from demonstrating the complexities of Ancient Egyptian poetry to revealing the realities of Celtic feasting (supported by The Leverhulme Trust) and developing new cost effective ways to exhibit fragile objects to the public. Some directly underpins the Museum’s exhibitions, such as the detailed study needed to re-evaluate the story of Spanish art as revealed through artists’ prints and drawings (supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, AHRC).

Archaeology has traditionally been an important focus of the Museum’s work. We are leading the exploration of the Sudan’s long history, providing important insights about how past societies overcame climate change that can provide lessons for the present. Supporting the next generation of researchers has become a key part of our work; at any one time more than 25 PhD studentships carry out research through the AHRC’s Collaborative Doctoral Awards Scheme.

Applying new scientific techniques to answer questions about works of art or ancient objects is one of the Museum’s major strengths, and often requires collaboration with many different specialists outside of the Museum. Last year a BM study, funded by The Leverhulme Trust, of the dyes used to colour ancient textiles from the Andes yielded surprising results about the possible long distance trade in dyes several thousand years ago and the introduction of the cochineal beetle into South America. All of this research requires collaborating with researchers in other UK and international institutions, and significant funding. Over the past ten years the external funding raised to support our research has increased thirty fold (amounting to £3.5million in external funding in 12/13 alone), with the Museum successfully competing with the UK’s top Universities to win funding for major projects.

National and InternationalAnthropomorphic bat pectoral,  Tairona,  gold alloy,  AD900-1600 800

From Aberystwyth to York, Aachen to Zagreb, the Museum continued to share the collection as widely as possible last year. The British Museum is the world’s largest lender of objects on both long and short term loan and touring exhibitions, with 4, 502 objects lent in 2012/13 nationally and internationally. BM tours and national activities are made possible by the John Ellerman Foundation, Dorset Foundation, Vivmar Foundation, Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and public funding from Arts Council England. The BM sent over 15 full exhibitions on tour including Native American material to Exeter, ancient Egyptian material to Mumbai and Persian objects to the US.

The Museum provided bespoke training schemes for Indian museum professionals in 2012 and again in 2013, as well as organising the annual International Training Programme held at the Museum every summer. Last year participants from 26 countries including China, Lebanon, Libya and Sudan took part in sessions at the British Museum and in placements across the country. There is now a network of over 140 curators across the world who have benefited from participation in the scheme.

The Museum continued to work to support museums in Afghanistan, Iraq and the UAE. The BM is consulting on all aspects of the creation of the new Zayed National Museum in Abu Dhabi, due for completion in 2016. It is assisting in the creation of a new museum in Basrah in Iraq and continues to help colleagues at the National Museum in Kabul with the identification and seizure of illicit or stolen material which has found its way to the UK.

2012/13 in numbers:

Visitor figures:
The British Museum received over 5.575 million visitors in 2011/2012, and is the most popular cultural attraction in the UK for the sixth year running.

Temporary exhibitions:
The BP exhibition Shakespeare: staging the world was seen by over 105, 000 visitors, and provided the BM with the opportunity to work in an unprecedented way with the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Ice Age Art: arrival of the modern mind was seen by over 90, 000, 133% up on the original target

Life and death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, sponsored by Goldman Sachs, has already exceeded its original target after 3 months of a 6 month run with over 250, 000 tickets sold.

Pompeii Live, the BM’s first live screening event was broadcast into 280 cinemas across the country on 18 June with a special schools screening on the 19 June. The evening screening was seen by 34, 973 people and the schools broadcast by 12, 152 schoolchildren.

Online and On Air: was visited by over 14 million people last year, up 19% on the previous year

Total visits to all BM websites were 27.3 million, up 14% on the previous year

The BM’s Chinese site received 3.2 million visits in the last year, up 35% on the previous year.

Online collection records grew to over 2 million, the largest figure of any comparable museum or gallery.

Over 32 million downloads of the A History of the World radio programmes worldwide and over 360, 000 copies of the accompanying book have been sold worldwide across 12 countries.

The radio series ‘Shakespeare’s Restless World’ attracted an average weekly audience of 10.25 million people. As of March 2013, there were 1.7 million downloads of the programmes. An accompanying book of the series was published by Penguin with international rights sold in Italy, Germany and America.


1.Satyr and maenads, marble wall panel, From the House of the Dionysiac Reliefs, Herculaneum, 1st century AD. Copyright Soprintendenza Speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Napoli e Pompei / Trustees of the British Museum

2.Gold bracelet in the form of a coiled snake, 1st Century AD, Roman, Pompeii. Copyright the Trustees of the British Museum

3. Anthropomorphic bat pectoral, Tairona, gold alloy, AD900-1600. Copyright Museo del Oro, Banco de la Republica, Colombia.

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