Royal Museum

The National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland, was formed in 2006 with the merger of the Museum of Scotland, with collections relating to Scottish antiquities, culture and history, and the Royal Museum next door, with collections covering science and technology, natural history, and world cultures. The two connected buildings stand beside each other on Chambers Street, by the the intersection with the George IV Bridge, in central Edinburgh. The museum is part of National Museums Scotland. Admission is free.

The two buildings retain distinctive characters: the former Museum of Scotland is housed in a modern building opened in 1998, while the former Royal Museum building was begun in 1861, and partially opened in 1866, with a Victorian Romanesque Revival facade and a grand central hall of cast iron construction that rises the full height of the building. This building re-opened on 29 July 2011 after a £47 million project to restore and extend the building, and redesign the exhibitions (by Ralph Appelbaum).

The museum incorporates the collections of the former National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, and the Royal Museum. As well as the main national collections of Scottish archaeological finds and medieval objects, the museum contains artifacts from around the world, encompassing geology, archaeology, natural history, science, technology and art. The 16 new galleries re-opened in 2011 include 8,000 objects, 80% of which were not formerly on display. One of the more notable exhibits is the stuffed body of Dolly the sheep, the first successful clone of a mammal from an adult cell. Other highlights include Ancient Egyptian exhibitions, one of Elton John's extravagant suits and a large kinetic sculpture named the Millennium Clock. A Scottish invention that is a perennial favourite with school parties is The Maiden, an early form of guillotine.


The Scottish galleries in the 1998 building cover Scottish history in an essentially chronological arrangement, beginning with prehistory to the early medieval period at the lowest level, with later periods in the higher levels. The Victorian building, as re-opened in 2011, contains 16 exhibition areas, covering natural history, world cultures, which includes a gallery on the South Pacific, East Asian art, Ancient Egypt, "Art and Industry", European decorative arts including costume, and technology. The central space of the Grand Gallery contains a variety of large objects from the collections, with a display called the "Window on the World" rising four stories, or about 20 metres, containing over 800 objects of many types. The sides of the Grand Gallery at ground level contain the "Discoveries" gallery, with objects connected to "remarkable Scots ... in the fields of invention, exploration and adventure".

Notable artefacts include:

  • Monymusk Reliquary
  • St Ninian's Isle Treasure
  • 10 of the Lewis chessmen. (The rest are owned by the British Museum)
  • Celtic brooches, including the Hunterston Brooch
  • Torrs Pony-cap and Horns
  • Pictish stones, such as the Hilton of Cadboll Stone, Woodwrae Stone, and Monifieth Sculptured Stones
  • the Cramond Lioness, Newstead Helmet and other items from the Roman frontier
  • Whitecleuch Chain
  • Migdale Hoard
  • Bute mazer
  • Sculptures by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi, housing prehistoric jewellery
  • A Union Flag and Scottish Flag raised by the Hanoverians and Jacobites respectively at the Battle of Culloden
  • The Maiden, an early form of guillotine
  • Dolly the sheep
  • Paintings by Margaret MacDonald
  • Sculptures by Andy Goldsworthy, inspired by the work of Scottish geologist James Hutton
  • Torrs Pony-cap and Horns, Iron Age

  • Roman Newstead Helmet

  • Pictish silver plaques from Norrie's Law

  • Hilton of Cadboll Stone

  • Hunterston Brooch

  • Cramond Lioness

Former Museum of Scotland

The building's architecture was controversial from the start, and Prince Charles resigned as patron of the museum, in protest at the lack of consultation over its design. The building is made up of geometric, Corbusian forms, but also has numerous references to Scotland, such as brochs and castellated, defensive, architecture. It is clad in golden Moray sandstone, which one of its architects, Gordon Benson, has called "the oldest exhibit in the building", a reference to Scottish geology. The building was a 1999 Stirling Prize nominee.

Former Royal Museum

Construction was started in 1861 and proceeded in phases, with some sections opening before others had even begun construction. The original extent of the building was completed in 1888. It was designed by civil engineer Captain Francis Fowke of the Royal Engineers, who is also responsible for the Royal Albert Hall. The exterior, designed in a Venetian Renaissance style, contrasts sharply with the light flooded main hall or Grand Gallery, inspired by The Crystal Palace. A second atrium-style hall now contains larger exhibits from the natural history collection at ground level, with some suspended above.

Numerous extensions to the back have extended the museum greatly since then. In 1998, the Museum of Scotland opened, which is linked internally to the Royal Museum. The redevelopment completed in 2011 by Gareth Hoskins Architects uses former storage areas to form a vaulted Entrance Hall of 1400 sq M at street level with visitor facilities. This involved lowering the floor level by 1.2 metres. Despite being a Class A listed building, it was possible to add lifts and escalators.


The history of the museum can be said to begin in 1780 with the foundation of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, which still continues, but whose collection of archaeological and other finds was transferred to the government in 1858 as the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland, based in Queen Street. In 1861 construction of the Royal Museum, originally the "Industrial Museum", began with Prince Albert laying the foundation stone; in 1866 the eastern end, including the Grand Gallery, was opened by Prince Afred. In 1888 the building was finished and in 1904 it was renamed the Royal Scottish Museum, and again in 1995 as the Royal Museum.

The organizational merger of the National Museum of Antiquities of Scotland and the Royal Scottish Museum took place in 1985, but the two collections kept their separate buildings until 1995 when Queen St closed, to reopen as the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, and in 1998 the new Museum of Scotland building opened, next door to the Royal Museum, and connected to it. The plan to redevelop the Royal and further integrate the two buildings and collections was launched in 2004, and in 2006 the two museums were formally merged into the National Museum of Scotland. The old Royal Museum building closed for the redevelopment in 2008, before re-opening in July 2011.

Initially, much of the Royal Museum's collection came from the Museum of Edinburgh University, and there is a bridge connecting the museum to the University's Old College building. The students saw the collection as their own, and curators would often find the exhibits rearranged or even missing. The final straw came in the 1870s, when students who were holding a party found that the museum was also holding a reception for local dignitaries, and had stored refreshments in the bridge. When the museum found the refreshments missing, the bridge was bricked up the next day, as it has remained since.

The Royal Museum displayed prank exhibits on April Fool's Day on at least one occasion. In 1975, a fictitious bird called the Bare-fronted Hoodwink (known for its innate ability to fly away from observers before they could accurately identify it) was put on display. The exhibit included photos of blurry birds flying away. To make the exhibit more convincing, a mount of the bird was sewn together by a taxidermist from various scraps of real birds, including the head of a Carrion Crow, the body of a Plover, and the feet of an unknown waterfowl. The bare front was composed of wax.

  • Interior view of the Museum of Scotland

  • The Roof Terrace, featuring artworks by Andy Goldsworthy

  • Basement level interior

  • The Monymusk Reliquary, which dates from circa 750AD

  • Replica of the tomb of Mary Queen of Scots

  • The Maiden

  • Whale bone sculpture by Andy Goldworthy in the basement of the museum

  • Bronze figure by Paolozzi in basement of museum

  • The crypt-like entrance to the National Museum, opened July 29, 2011

  • A GE 950, the oldest colour television model in the world

  • Captain Cook's Shelton regulator clock.

  • Head of a cast Tyrannosaurus Rex

  • Display of Egyptian shabtis

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