A top official at Britain's Fitzwilliam Museum says some of its best-known artifacts "are in very, very small pieces," after a visitor tripped on his shoelace and fell down a stairway.

The three Chinese vases had been sitting proudly on a window beside the staircase for 40 years before the man's spill knocked them off and shattered them.

The museum's director says he's glad the visitor wasn't hurt, but the accident is "most unfortunate and regrettable."

The vases date from the late 17th or early 18th century. They were donated to the museum in Cambridge in 1948.

The museum's assistant director says officials are "determined to put them back together." No word on the value of the vases.