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Ramesses II statue in British Museum

British Museum revamps online collection

Image credit: Dreamstime

The British Museum has brought forward the launch of an update to its online collection database, allowing people under lockdown to explore its vast collections from home and even zoom in on details too small to be seen with the naked eye.

The update to the British Museum Collection Online is the largest since it was first created in 2007. There are now nearly 4.5 million objects, including 1.9 million images. Many of the new records published today are for objects acquired in recent years, including 73 Damian Hirst portraits, a previously lost watercolour painting by Rossetti, and a Bronze Age pendant. Famous artefacts in the collection include the Rosetta Stone, the Sutton Hoo treasures, the Elgin Marbles, the Benin Bronzes and the Cyrus Cylinder.

The majority of the millions of images are available for anyone to use for free under a Creative Commons 4.0 license.

“The British Museum Collection Online makes millions of objects accessible to the citizens of the world, wherever they might be,” said Hartwig Fischer, the British Museum director. “Whether you are a student, an artist, a scholar or are a lover of history and culture, this is an unparalleled resource to explore the richness, diversity, and complexity of human history contained in the British Museum’s collection.”

“It is also a platform where we can share the latest knowledge and research. We are delighted to be able to unveil this major revamp early, and hope that these important objects can provide inspiration, reflection of even just quiet moments of distraction during this difficult time.”

A significant new addition to the collection is the ability to zoom in to see the fine details of objects. The online collection supports very fast and rich zoom and panning of images on a level of detail impossible to see with the naked eye.

Zoom will be available on a small number of key objects to begin with, including the famous Maoi (Easter Island statue) Hoa Hakananai’a, and the Admonitions Scroll, which was painted on silk in China over 1,600 years ago. The feature will be expanded to thousands of objects in the coming weeks.

According to the British Museum, there has been a huge surge in online traffic since it closed just days before the country went into lockdown. In the four weeks since the closure, it has seen traffic approximately double from the same period in 2019.

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