Location: British Museum

This virtuosic carving represents a creator god. It is one of the finest pieces of Polynesian sculpture in the West.

Rurutu figure known as A’a

In ancient Rome, official portraits were full of political messages. What does Vespasian’s portrait say about him?

Portrait of Vespasian

The turquoise, shell and other materials used on this mask were collected from the far reaches of the Aztec empire.

Mosaic mask of Tezcatlipoca

This rare survival of a Mesoamerican pre-Hispanic book records the life and times of ruler Eight Deer Jaguar-Claw.

Codex Zouche-Nuttall

Vessels like this are an important source of information about Maya society since few of their books survive.

Maya: The Fenton Vase

Maori meeting house
The god of war rules the world outside these sacred spaces, but inside, peace and calm prevail.

Maori meeting house

Collected from Papua New Guinea in the 1880s, this figure would otherwise have been destroyed after its ritual use.

Malagan at the British Museum

From military machines to playful cats, Leonardo’s extraordinary drawings capture his incessant curiosity.

Leonardo and his drawings

These receptacles held liquid offerings, the surface of the liquid were eyes that saw into the underworld.

Inka stone vessels

Masks and scrolls adorn the square head of this silver-gilt brooch. Extravagant but functional, it fastened clothes.

Brooch from Chessell Down

Oceania feather cape
Hawaiian nobility donned these “red garments” in ceremonies and battle and later gave them to Europeans as gifts.

Feather cape

Mummy portrait of a woman, c. 55-70 C.E., 41.6 x 21.5 cm, Hawara, Egypt © Trustees of the British Museum
Ancient Egyptians made little use of naturalistic portraits, but this changed following capture by Rome.

Egyptian mummy portraits

Snakes shedding their skin was a powerful metaphor for the Aztecs and is reflected in their pantheon of gods.

Double-headed serpent

Stylistic analysis of these brooches and buckles might seem straightforward, but their designs riddle even experts.

Decoding Anglo-Saxon art

Clovis culture
The first clear evidence of human activity in North America are spearheads used to hunt large game.

Clovis culture

Ban Chiang Clay Jar, Ban Chiang, north-eastern Thailand, 1st millennium B.C.E. © Trustees of the British Museum
This well-preserved example of patterned earthenware dates to Thailand’s earliest agricultural communities.

Ban Chiang Clay Jar