Mary Beard picks her favourite objects from the British Museum

Mark Brown Arts correspondent
Photograph: Helena Hunt/BBC/Lion TV

A cheap souvenir badge from Lyme Regis in Dorset has been named by Professor Mary Beard as one of her favourite objects in the British Museum.

Beard, a new trustee of the museum, is kicking off a social media exercise on Thursday in which museum managers, board members, curators and staff will name items from the collection which inspire them. Public participation will be encouraged.

The bric-a-brac of modern times, the kind of thing that anyone of us might have owned, will become the history of the future

Mary Beard

She also includes a 4,000-year-old piece of bread, a Michelangelo drawing of Adam, a 600-year-old Yoruba brass head and – least surprising for one of the UK’s best known classicists – a head of the Roman emperor Augustus.

The choice of the badge, made in 1995, is a surprising one. But Beard said it was a reminder that the museum was not just full of “precious, expensive, ancient” artefacts.

“Part of the collection is the revealing bric-a-brac of modern times, the kind of thing that anyone of us might have owned, that will become the history of the future,” she said.

The badge is a souvenir from Lyme Regis Museum and is decorated with a drawing of the 19th century geologist and fossil hunter Mary Anning, who was born in the town.

The souvenir badge has a drawing of the geologist Mary Anning. Photograph: The Trustees of the British Museum/PA

“She is one of the many women whose efforts, often unsung, underlie the collections in museums across the world,” said Beard.

The classics professor was last week named as a new trustee after initially being blocked from a position by Downing Street when Theresa May was prime minister. Under the museum’s constitution the board can pick five of its 25 trustees without government approval.

In a British Museum blogpost, Beard talks of her excitement at becoming a trustee “after some hiccoughs along the way”.

A head of the Roman emperor Augustus, on display at the British Museum. Photograph: The Trustees of the British Museum/PA

She says she sees her four-year term as a way of paying back debts to the museum which she first went to, aged five, in 1960, with her mother. Beard recalled being amazed at seeing a piece of ancient Egyptian cake and thrilled when a curator opened the case and got the object out for her.

“I’ve never forgotten the excitement of that first close encounter with the distant past. I have no idea who the kind man was, but he played a big part in setting me on the road to a career in history.”