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How to Visit the British Museum Without Going to London

A new partnership with Google allows art aficionados to take virtual strolls through the museum’s treasures

(Charles Bowman/robertharding/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

The British Museum has a vaunted reputation as one of the world's largest, best museums. Unless you have a lavish travel budget, however, the London-based gallery can seem as remote as the ancient history it contains. But now, reports the AFP, the museum's priceless artifacts can be toured with Google Street View.

The project is part of a new partnership between Google and the British Museum, which will digitize everything from Celtic life in Britain and rare Chinese scrolls and offer virtual strolls through the museum's impressive interior. More than 4,500 artifacts will be available, according to a museum press release.

Though the British Museum has been in existence since 1753, its mission of becoming "the museum of the world" has always been a challenge. The museum's departing director Neil MacGregor tells The Guardian’s Mark Brown that the goal was "an Enlightenment fantasy" that became attainable with the internet, which allows the museum to stage unique virtual exhibits and up-close views of the ancient objects within its collection.

That lofty mission is also a controversial one: Many pieces in the collection are as disputed as they are famous. The Elgin Marbles, a series of stone sculptures from the ancient Parthenon, have been at the center of a longstanding claim that they are stolen pieces of Greek heritage. Similar disputes have plagued the Rosetta Stone and the museum's Australian collection.

Opinions differ as to whether the British Museum truly owns the disputed artifacts in its impressive collection. Nonetheless, there's no denying that these treasures are culturally significant—and that they look stunning in ultra high-res. Get your clicking finger ready: Even if you can't make it to London, you're in for a great visit to the museum.

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