Locked-down Europeans flock to British Museum's online collections

The Mummy of Tamut, a temple singer around 900 BC, is shown during a press conference at the British Museum in London, Wednesday April 9, 2014.
The Mummy of Tamut, a temple singer around 900 BC, is shown during a press conference at the British Museum in London, Wednesday April 9, 2014. Copyright AP Photo/Alastair Grant
Copyright AP Photo/Alastair Grant
By Natalie Huet
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Egyptian mummies without the crowds: traffic to the museum's online galleries has more than tripled amid coronavirus lockdowns.


Mass lockdowns around the globe have pushed many people to seek creative ways of keeping themselves entertained online.

Virtual tours of The British Museum in London are pulling in the crowds as visitors can browse more than 60 galleries full of world-famous objects.

The museum says traffic to its website rose five-fold at its peak and remains three times what it was before the coronavirus pandemic hit. Its channel on YouTube has also just reached 300,000 thousand subscribers – making it the third-largest museum worldwide in terms of subscribers.

The rise in the number of visitors has been especially strong coming from Italy and Spain, where lockdowns have been strictest.

"Maybe there’s something about a desire for culture, the permanence of these objects from thousands of years ago that give people comfort in the troubled times we’re living in," Michael Tame, website programme manager for the British Museum, told Euronews.

The Rosetta Stone, Lewis Chessmen and Egyptian Mummies are among the biggest draws.

And the museum's Google street view tour is "probably the most popular," Tame said in an interview on Euronews Now. "Because you can take control. You can just literally walk through those galleries, which millions of people do every year but right now are completely empty."

Cultural institutions across Europe have been opening up online amid nationwide lockdowns. In Stockholm, the Moderna Museet Modern Art Museum is offering "sofa tours" for online visitors.

'Very heartening'

Tame called the spike in online visits "very heartening" at a time when the British Museum, usually bustling with around 6 million visitors each year, is deserted.

"Right now it’s just security staff and maintenance people making sure that the central systems carry on running. And it’s a huge problem for us because we plan out exhibitions for months and years in advance, and they’re all sort of stacked up, ready to go," he said.

"So we are working out how to redo some of those – possibly turn them onto online because we have no idea when the museum’s going to reopen at the moment."

Online visitors can also contemplate 3D models of some of the museum's star objects up really close — and from all angles — on Sketchfab.

There are about 250 of these 3D models available right now, but the museum's online galleries hold millions of objects, with "something for any interest," Tame said.

"It literally is a museum of the world for the world."

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