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Archaeology InSites

The National Museum of Scotland - Edinburgh

Museum origins

The museum owes some of its origins to the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland which was founded in 1780 “to investigate both antiquities and natural and civil history in general, with the intention that the talents of mankind should be cultivated and that the study of natural and useful sciences should be promoted”.

The antiquities that Society members collected formed the basis of the collection in the former National Museum of Antiquities (now part of the NMS) and were transferred to the nation in the mid-19th century.

Construction of the building in Chambers Street began as an industrial museum in 1861 with the foundation stone being laid by Prince Albert, his last public act before his death later that year. Designed by Francis Fowke, a highly significant British architect and engineer who used cast iron technology in his designs. This allowed him to create large iron- framed buildings with great open spaces. The interior design of the museum in Chambers Street is arguably one of the most remarkable public spaces in Scotland, with soaring open galleries. The building was listed at Category A in recognition of its national significance as early as 1970.
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A new museum for a new century

In 1998, a new western extension was opened, designed by Benson and Forsyth with geometric forms with numerous references to Scotland, notably in the ‘tower’ or ‘broch’ at its western entrance. This extension allowed the collections of the former National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland (which was in Queen Street) to be displayed alongside the rest of the museum’s collection. A further remodelling and refurbishment to create street-level access opened in 2011, and was designed by Gareth Hopkins.

But as well as being impressed by the exterior and interior of the building, the museum showcases its world class collections. These range from a Tyrannosaurus Rex to Dolly the Sheep, from World Cultures to some of the finest artefacts unearthed in Scotland. Highlights include many objects found before the advent of modern surveying, from locations that are only vaguely known, through to modern discoveries whose location is recorded in great accuracy in Canmore.

Objects spanning the full range of Scotland’s prehistory and history can be found here, with some outstanding stone artefacts alongside celebrated precious metals. Abstract figures by sculptor Eduardo Paolozzi display some of the objects in the Early People gallery. Highlights include the Hilton of Cadboll stone, the Lewis Chess pieces, Roman artefacts from Newstead (Trimontium), the Hunterston brooch, the Ballachulish figure, the Monymusk reliquary… the list is endless.

As befits a museum of this stature, it is impressive from the outside in.
Dr Rebecca Jones - Head of Archaeology and World Heritage
Please be aware that this site may be on private land. For more information regarding access please consult the Scottish Outdoor Access Code