Our Scottish galleries guide you from the Palaeolithic era to the present day, from the earliest cultures to space age science, prehistory to pop culture. Come face to face with iconic historic artefacts, learn how Scottish innovation has helped shape the modern world and see how the lives of everyday Scots have changed through the centuries.

Explore the first three billion years of Scotland’s history and uncovers the origins and evolution of our landscape, flora and fauna in Beginnings, on Level -1.

Wolves in the Beginnings gallery

Above: Wolves in the Beginnings gallery.

Next, meet the men and women of prehistory in Early People. This gallery explores how people lived from around 8000 BC to AD 1100: how they used the land’s resources, interacted with each other and made sense of the world. Here you’ll find some of our most fascinating archaeological treasures, including the Pictish Hilton of Cadboll stone, Iron Age carynx and gold torcs and Roman Cramond lioness. Every object displayed has some connection with a person or community, yet there is virtually no trace of these prehistoric people as individuals. Instead, their missing faces are represented by abstract figures sculpted by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi.

Sculptures by Paolozzi in the Early People gallery

Above: People, sculptures by Sir Eduardo Paolozzi. © Trustees of the Paolozzi Foundation, Licensed by DACS 2015.

Moving up a level, Kingdom of the Scots follows Scotland from its emergence as a nation around 1100 to 1707, when the Union of the Scottish and English Parliaments created the United Kingdom of Great Britain. This gallery showcases some of our most precious objects: the tiny Monymusk reliquary, the Queen Mary harp and the famous Lewis chessmen, probably the best-known archaeological find from Scotland. Here you’ll encounter legends of Scottish history, from William Wallace and Robert the Bruce to Mary, Queen of Scots, and trace the changing face of Scotland through developments in trade and the economy, and fierce religious and political controversy.

Replica of Mary, Queen of Scots' tomb in the Kingdom of the Scots gallery

Above: Replica of the tomb of Mary, Queen of Scots. The original is in Westminster Abbey.

On Level 3, Scotland Transformed takes us through the 18th and early 19th century, during which Scotland began to change from a predominantly rural, medieval society to an urban, modern one. The romantic trappings of the doomed Jacobite story, including a silver picnic set made for Bonnie Prince Charlie, make way for the power of industry, with the gallery dominated by the mighty Newcomen atmospheric engine.

Industry and Empire, on Levels 4 and 5, explores how life in 19th century Scotland was moulded by industrial development. Contrast the mysterious superstitions surrounding the Arthur’s Seat coffins with the pioneering progress of Scottish engineering, represented by the mighty steam locomotive Ellesmere, and learn why many people chose or were forced to leave Scotland for a new life overseas.

Hillman Imp in the Scotland: A Changing Nation gallery

Above: Hillman Imp in the Scotland: A Changing Nation gallery. The Proclaimers' song 'Letter to America'projected onto the bonnet refers to Scotland's long history of emigration.

At the top of the Museum, Scotland: A Changing Nation traces the varied experiences of people living and working in 20th century Scotland through five major themes: war, industry, daily life, emigration and politics. From hard-won medals to a Hillman Imp car, suffragette brooches to the tent used during the Democracy for Scotland campaign, personal stories, iconic objects and film footage tell the tale of Scotland's social history, showing how the country has been shaped into a modern and diverse nation in the 21st century.

The gallery film One Nation: Five Million Voices explores what it means to be Scottish - you can see an excerpt from the film here.


On display

Alexander Peden's mask

Behind this frightening-looking mask, worn as a disguise by the outlawed Covenanting minister Alexander Peden, lies a fascinating story of rebellion and religious conviction.

Ballachulish figure

Fertility figure or Iron Age goddess of the straits? This carved sculpture of a female dates from around 600 BC, but its origins remain unknown.

Coronation ampulla of Charles I

This curious object, one of the earliest surviving pieces of Scottish-made gold, was used at the Scottish coronation of Charles I, held some eight years after his coronation in London.

Cramond lioness

In 1997, ferryman Robert Graham unearthed a sandstone sculpture from the mud of the River Almond, Cramond, Edinburgh. It turned out to be one of the most important Roman finds in decades.

Crozier and Coigreach of St Fillan

This beautiful medieval bishop’s crook and silver-gilt case, or Coigreach, are associated with St Fillan of Perthshire, and are among our most important medieval church artefacts.

Darien chest

Discover the story of Scotland's failed venture to colonise part of Panama in the 17th century.

Democracy for Scotland tent

This tent was a home-made 'mini' vigil travelling stall used by members of the Democracy for Scotland campaign.

Deskford carnyx

Uncover the history of this iconic Celtic trumpet, and find out how it has been reconstructed to bring the music of the past to life.

Hillman Imp

This Scottish manufactured motor car was once the cheapest new car on the British market.

Hilton of Cadboll stone

The Hilton of Cadboll stone was carved around AD 800 in northern Scotland, then a heartland of the Picts.

Hunterston brooch

This stunning brooch was found at Hunterston, Ayrshire during the 1830s. Made about AD700, it is a highly accomplished casting of silver, richly mounted with gold, silver and amber decoration.

Iron Age gold torcs

In September 2009, an amateur treasure hunter made an amazing discovery when he unearthed four gold neck ornaments (torcs) in a field near Stirling.

John Lang lathe

Discover what this historic tool can tell us about the story of machinery and industry in Scotland.

Lewis chessmen

Found on Lewis in 1831, the Lewis Chessmen are probably the most well-known archaeological find from Scotland.

Mary, Queen of Scots

Mary, Queen of Scots is one of the most famous yet enigmatic figures in Scottish history. Explore her dramatic story through objects in our collection.

Monymusk reliquary

Take a look inside one of the most treasured objects in the National Museum of Scotland.

The mystery of the miniature coffins

Satanic spell, superstitious charm or echo of Edinburgh’s grisly underworld history? We examine the theories put forward to explain the strange tale of these tiny coffins.

Norrie's Law hoard

This early medieval silver, unearthed in Fife during the 19th century, is one of the largest Pictish hoards ever to be found.

St Ninian's Isle treasure

Unearth a fascinating Pictish treasure trove.

The Jacobite challenge

Discover the story of the Jacobites and Prince Charles Edward Stuart, better known as Bonnie Prince Charlie, through key objects from the national collection.

The Maiden

Long before the French Revolution, the Scots had invented and were using a beheading machine known as the Maiden.

Torrs pony cap

This unique decorated Iron Age cap would have adorned a highly prized pony.

Traprain Law treasure

Buried around the middle of the 5th century AD, this hoard of Roman silver from Traprain Law in East Lothian is the largest known from outside the Roman Empire.

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