National Museum of Scotland

Member Rating 5 out of 5 by Drever on January 26, 2012

The redeveloped former Royal Museum, now part of the National Museum of Scotland, reopened its doors on 29th July, 2011. The new Entrance Hall in this magnificent Victorian building was originally a basement used to store the huge number of objects not on permanent display. With its vaulted ceiling and new Caithness stone flooring it provides a welcoming introduction to the museum, with a shop and visitor toilets. You ascend from here by stairs or glass lift to the Grand Gallery. This soaring, light-filled atrium rises over four floors, giving a tantalising taster of the museum’s collections.

The museum contains 16 new galleries and 8,000 objects newly on display. These galleries tell the story of Scotland and Scottish people’s engagement with the wider world. The new Discoveries Gallery introduce visitors to the museum’s four themes: the natural world; art and design; science and discovery; and world cultures.
Greeting visitors to the Natural World galleries is a full-scale skeleton of a mighty Tyrannosaurus-rex. The collection displays astronomy, geology, fossils and wildlife including the spectacular Wildlife Panorama, which features a hippo, a giant albatross and a great white shark.

The new Discoveries gallery explores the stories behind some of the museum’s most treasured objects, linked to Scots' achievements in leadership, inventiveness and military prowess across the world and throughout the centuries.

The 18th-century, the period of the Scottish Enlightenment, proved a hugely productive period of national creativity in terms of explorers, inventors, innovators and thinkers. One of them, James Watt (1736-1819), popularly linked to developing the steam engine, trained as a scientific instrument-maker and ran a successful instrument-making business in Glasgow. The Discoveries Gallery shows a cistern barometer dating to around 1760, the only surviving signed instrument made by Watt in his workshop.

The museum also covers other well-known names such as John Logie Baird, Sir Alexander Fleming and David Livingstone. However, visitors can also discover lesser-known figures such as James Bruce of Kinnaird (1730-94), the explorer who became the first European to map the source of the Blue Nile. Illustrating his story is the silver-mounted coconut cup from which he toasted the health of George III on November 4th, 1770 ‘at the fountains of the Nile’, on the shores of Lake Tana in present-day Ethiopia.

Many Scots made their name outside their native land. One such was John Muir (1838-1914), regarded as the father of the United States National Park Service. A Scot from a modest background he emigrated with his family to the United Sates. He became the trailblazing conservationist that we know of today by dint of hard work and application. He promoted a passion for nature through his writings as he tirelessly campaigned for preserving some of America’s most outstanding areas of natural beauty.

The gallery also illustrates the excellence of Scottish universities. Some of the world’s most influential scientists and thinkers have studied here. Charles Darwin (1809-82) attended the renowned medical school at the University of Edinburgh between 1825 and 1827, though the vast natural history collections of the university proved more interesting to the aspiring naturalist. However he learned how to observe, dissect and prepare specimens and took private lessons in taxidermy.

The American historian Arthur Herman may be overstating Scotland’s case in his book How the Scots Invented the Modern World (2001). But as visitors navigate their way around this redeveloped part of the redeveloped National Museum of Scotland they might ponder on the evidence that this small nation has punched well above its weight.
The World Cultures galleries explore how people across the globe live their lives and express themselves through music, art and performance. An 11 metre totem pole, a Tibetan prayer wheelhouse and a Maori canoe sit alongside items linked to the Hudson’s Bay Company, Captain Cook and Robert Louis Stevenson, as well as a host of present-day items. Younger visitors love the Imagine gallery where they encounter a whole world of hands-on displays inspired by objects from the World Cultures galleries.

As well as adding these new galleries, the redevelopment includes refreshed older galleries containing a further wealth of displays. The Egyptian gallery contains a collection of mummies and other artefacts providing a unique insight into life-and-death in ancient Egypt. The Looking East gallery contains East Asian art, which explores the art of China, Japan and Korea.

The Museum also contains recent developments. In the early stages of Space Exploration Britain ranked next to Russia and America. Britain still has a satellite up there launched with its own rocket. Its Black Knight research rocket designed to reach speeds of over 10,000 miles per hour first launched in 1958. One of the Gemini NASA space capsules built in the 1960s also features.

Scotland has worked its way through the Industrial Revolution and played a huge part in mining, iron and steel production, Ships and railway building and cloth production. These industries are now much diminished. One that goes from strength to strength however is whisky production. A full size Whisky Still on display with story boards helps explain its success.

The National Museum of Scotland is a must for those that want to know Scotland’s story and wider events.
National Museum of Scotland
Chambers Street
Edinburgh, Scotland, EH1 1JF
0300 123 6789

© LP 2000-2009