Exhibition Highlights

Extraordinary Stories from the British Museum features priceless objects from the British Museum, augmented with a range of amazing items from the Western Australian Museum's collections. Below, a selection of highlights have been showcased to give a taste of the items that will be on display.

Wooden shield for a bowman

Elaborately decorated wooden shield for a bowman from Papua New Guinea 1850–1900

Made in Papua New Guinea 1850-1900 CE.

This archer's shield from the Vailala area of Papua New Guinea would have been used by a bowman. It is supported by a shoulder strap and has an arm slot at the top, which would allow a warrior to have both arms free for his bow and arrow.

The circles painted on this shield represent a powerful ancestor, who would have helped to bring the warrior success in battle.

In the western Pacific, shields are not camouflaged but are instead decorated with bold and dazzling designs intended to intimidate the enemy.

Throne of Weapons

Throne of Weapons a chair made from guns from all over the world

This chair is one of the objects made, as part of the "Transforming Arms into Ploughshares" project, from discarded weapons collected after the civil war in Mozambique. This throne was made by Mozambican artist Cristóvão Canhavato (Kester) in 2001.

The Snettisham Great Torc

The Snettisham Great Torc 8 separate ropes of gold twisted to form a necklace

This torc was made with great skill and tremendous care between 150 and 75 BCE. It is one of the most elaborate golden objects made in the ancient world.

The torc is made from just over a kilogram of gold mixed with silver. It is made from sixty-four threads. Each thread was 1.9 mm wide. Eight threads were twisted together at a time to make 8 separate ropes of metal. These were then twisted around each other to make the final torc. The ends of the torc were cast in moulds. The hollow ends were then welded onto the ropes.

The Cyprus treasure

The Cyprus treasure bowl. In the centre is a half-length image of a saint

This bowl, together with a paten, hexagonal censer and twenty-four spoons, was found at the end of the nineteenth century by villagers quarrying the ruins of ancient Lambousa for building materials. The treasure may have been buried for safekeeping as the Arab armies invaded Cyprus in 653 CE.

The Chertsey shield

Iron Age shield made completely from bronze found in Europe

This is the only Iron Age shield made completely from bronze ever to have been found in Britain or Europe. Bronze shields found at Battersea and Witham are each composed of a metal front fitted onto a wooden shield. Other shields made entirely of bronze date to earlier centuries. This shield was found in 1985 by the driver of a mechanical digger excavating gravel from an old silted up channel of the River Thames.

Statue of Buddha

One of the first statues of Buddha ever made

This is one of the first statues of Buddha ever made. The Buddha assumes abhayamudra, the gesture of reassurance, offering protection to the worshipper with his raised hand, now lost.

Buddhism was the great religion of north-west India (now Pakistan), flourishing in Gandhara in the early centuries BCE. It was from this area that Buddhist principles and art were transmitted to central Asia and ultimately, to China and Japan.

Ife head

Ife head free-standing brass head cast in the lost wax technique

This free-standing brass head cast in the lost wax technique was discovered in 1938 at Wunmonije Compound in Ife, Nigeria. It was found by accident during house building works together with sixteen other brass and copper heads and the upper half of a brass figure.

The identification and function of the head, in common with the others discovered at this site, remain uncertain. Its elaborate beaded headdress, possibly representing a crown, suggest that it was associated with an Ooni, a ruler of Ife. It was made between 1200 - 1400 CE.

Handaxe made of quartz

Handaxe made of quartz (egg shaped with a sharp edge)

This one million year old small handaxe from Bed IV in Olduvai Gorge is one of the most beautiful in the British Museum. It is made from quartz with attractive amethyst banding, a difficult material from which to make tools because it is extremely hard. The toolmaker would have had to hit with considerable force and accuracy to remove flakes and irregularities in the crystal structure could cause faulty removals. Such a high degree of difficulty makes the thin symmetrical shape of this piece a masterpiece of the toolmakers' art.

Copper from the Hood

A Copper car bonnet painted with stylised animal/bird characters

Artist: Michael Nicoll Yahgulanaas, Haida, 2010.

The copper coating and the rectangular shape echo traditional Coppers which were a sign of wealth among the Haida.

The Haida are among a half dozen First Nations peoples of North America that the British Museum works with which includes the Nuu-chah-nulth of the west coast of Vancouver Island and the Kwakwakw'wakw of Alert Bay.

A queen from the Lewis Chess sets

A queen from the Lewis Chess set sitting on a throne with her head in her hand

The Lewis Chessmen form a remarkable group of iconic objects within the world collection of the British Museum. They were probably made in Norway, about 1150-1200 CE. At this period, the Western Isles, where the chessmen were buried, were part of the Kingdom of Norway, not Scotland. It seems likely they were buried for safe keeping en route to be traded in Ireland.

A canoe prow

A canoe prow beautifully carved in a style associated with North Auckland

This is the central panel of the prow of an 18th century CE war canoe. It is considered to be the best surviving example of the type known as tuere, with a separate splashboard and a triangular base fitted on to the central panel. Maori war canoes could be in excess of twenty metres long and carry up to 140 warriors. They were made with great care and attention to detail, and served as a focus of tribal pride. They were painted and adorned with feathers, and accompanying paddles and bailers were often elaborately decorated.