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Stone handaxe

THIS small handaxe 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. Such a high degree of difficulty makes the thin, symmetrical shape of this piece a masterpiece of the toolmakers’ art.
Swimming reindeer carved from the tip of a mammoth tuskTHIS CARVING IN the form of two reindeer is one of the most beautiful pieces of Stone Age art ever found. The reindeer are depicted with their noses up and antlers back, apparently in the act of swimming. This choice of pose might have been suggested by the tapering shape of the mammoth tusk.
Colossal marble foot

THIS COLOSSAL R I G H T foot originally belonged to a statue several times larger than life-size. In antiquity this scale was only used for images of gods and emperors. Although the statue from which the foot came was Roman, the sandal is an elaborate Greek type first seen in the fourth century вс. It is therefore likely that the foot belonged to the statue of a senior Olympian god, probably represented seated, as a standing figure would have been more than five metres tall.
Piranesi vase

THIS VASE WAS restored by the celebrated Italian architect and engraver Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-78). Piranesi, better known for his architectural views of ancient and modern Rome aimed at the Grand Tour market, later took up the lucrative business of the restoration and sale of antiquities. In 1769 he acquired a number of ancient fragments found at a site on the grounds of the villa of the Roman Emperor Hadrian at Tivoli near Rome. He restored these fragments and incorporated them into highly decorative classical pastiches.
‘Seal of God’ from Dr John Dee’s magic set

THE BRITISH MUSEUM has a number of objects associated with the Elizabethan mathematician, astrologer and magician John Dee (1527-1608/9). Dee was one of the most learned men of his time, but later in life he became interested in psychic phenomena. He worked with a medium, who would see visions in ‘shew-stones’, polished translucent or reflective objects which Dee used as tools for his occult research.
Rock crystal skull

LARGE QUARTZ CRYSTAL skulls such as this began to surface in public and private collections during the second half of the nineteenth century. Some of them have been attributed to the work of Aztec, Mixtec or even Maya stone workers. Others are said to be examples of post-Conquest Mexican art for use in churches, perhaps as bases for crucifixes.
Geometric krater painted with a couple and a ship with oarsmenThis KRATER (wine-mixing bowl) is decorated with a scene of a couple standing beside a ship. The scene clearly seems to portray a leave-taking and has been interpreted as a mythological scene, possibly Theseus taking Ariadne from Crete, or Paris abducting Helen from Sparta. The woman, with shoulder-length hair, is wearing a long skirt and holding what is probably a wreath. She is being held at her left wrist by a man who looks back at her while stepping towards the rear of the ship, perhaps to board it via the two gangplanks. The ship has a long prow and is the first known representation of a vessel manned by two tiers of oarsmen.
Casket depicting the Adoration of the Magi

This gilded casket was made in France in around ad 1200 and shows a scene from the New Testament on the front of the casket depicting the journey of the Magi to Bethlehem and their Adoration of the infant Jesus. The sides each have the image of an unidentified saint while the back is decorated with squares containing tloral motifs.
Pegasus vase


THIS VASE IS made of jasper ware, a type of unglazed stoneware that can be stained with colour before firing. Josiah Wedgwood (1730-95) perfected the technique by 1775, after a number of experiments.
Portland vase

This vase is one of the most famous objects in the Museum as well as one of the most famous examples of cameo-glass vessel from antiquity. To make such vessels requires great skill and technical ability. This example was made by dipping the partially blown blue glass into molten white glass. The two were then blown together into the final form. After cooling, the white layer was cut away to form the design. The cutting was probably performed by a skilled gem-cutter.