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Museums owe their origins to three traits in human nature: the desire to understand the universe, the wish to appreciate the artifacts museums contain, and the impetus to educate others. Each of these motivations has its own history, but none, by itself, necessitates the creation of a museum. One might, for example, have no more need for the objects used in one's research when what was being sought was found. Many archaeological remains are now replaced in the ground whence they came. If one wants to appreciate something, one will tend to look after it, but that does not mean that one will necessarily want to share it with anyone else, apart from a chosen few. This appears to have been the ethos behind the earliest art gallery in the world, the Pinakotheke, established on the Acropolis in Athens in the fifth century Egyptian exhibit in the British Museum. Founded in 1753, the world-renowned British Museum houses a collection that spans two million years of history. The original incarnation of the museum also boasted an extensive library; the two were divided physically in the late twentieth century. PETER APRAHAMIAN/CORBIS Caretaker removing a gorilla skeleton from a display case in London's Natural History Museum, 1953. The Natural History Museum began in the eighteenth century as a collection of exhibits in the British Museum. As the collection grew, Superintendent Richard Owen instigated a push for a separate natural history museum, and the new building was completed in 1880. © HULTON-DEUTSCH COLLECTION/CORBIS B.C.E. As far can be determined from cursory contemporary accounts (nothing physical remains), the museum had a religious purpose and showed paintings for the initiates—and the gods themselves—to view. Though it might have been open to the general public, it would be two millennia before galleries were specially created with that purpose in mind. It was not until there was a commitment to universal education that the modern concept of the museum took root and flourished.

Museums did not emerge at all in societies where the scientific study of the material world was not valued, for example, in ancient China and India, nor in countries dominated by religions that focused people's attention on the spiritual rather than the material world, such as Christianity during certain periods of its history and, more generally, Islam. Museums sprang from the approach to learning advocated by Aristotle: that people can only learn by studying the world around them and trusting the evidence of their own eyes, not by listening to others or reading what they have written.

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Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Molecular distillation to My station and its duties:Museums - Origins, Early Development, Growth, Agencies Of Influence, Future Challenges, Bibliography