Exhibition National Museum of Scotland

New thinking, new collecting

1 Aug 2020 - 31 May 2021

Hawthorden court

Free

This display highlights a small selection from our Scottish History & Archaeology collections, showing how research and collecting at National Museums Scotland is reshaping understandings of Scotland in the past, and reflecting the Scotland of today for future generations of museum visitors.

Through research, scientific analysis, conservation and collaboration with our many partners we are discovering untold stories about our existing collections. We are also continually making carefully chosen additions to the collections which will be displayed in future years. 

A Scottish Mystery

These ornate stone balls were carved around 5,000 years ago. Almost all have been found in Scotland, mostly in the north-east around Aberdeenshire. Their use and meaning are widely debated.

Carved stone ball from Glass Hill, Towie, Aberdeenshire, Neolithic, c. 3000 BC.  

The First Metalworkers

Around 2,400BC communities in Scotland first began to use metals, including copper, gold, and tin. Scientific research is building our understanding of how metals and metalworking skills arrived with new people travelling from Ireland and continental Europe.

Hair ornament of gold, semi-tubular with a tang for attachment, found at Orbliston Junction, Moray, possibly made in Ireland, 2300 - 2000 BC.

The start of the Bronze Age was a time of change. Research on our collections indicates that new technologies and new objects emerged as people migrated to Scotland, bringing metalworking knowledge with them. The first metal tools were made from copper, but this was soon replaced with bronze, an alloy of copper and tin.

These people also brought a new style of decorated pottery, and new ways of burying the dead. Local communities adopted the knowledge, ideas and materials. Exchange networks were developed to source copper, tin and gold. Producing, using and burying metal objects became important ways of communicating status and power.

Read more in this blog

Egyptian Luxury

This stone burial urn has been in the museum since the 1850s but has only recently been identified as one of the most remarkable finds known from Roman Scotland.

Alabaster urn, imperfect, from railway cutting near Grahamston, Falkirk.

In 1849, this stone burial urn was uncovered in railway works near the Roman fort of Camelon, north of Falkirk. It was displayed for some years after its discovery, but in 1900 the curators of the museum decided it was later than Roman, and it was put into storage.

A recent review and move of collections brought it to the attention of today’s curators. Research confirmed its Roman origins and revealed it was made from exotic Egyptian stone, and is one of only two such urns found in Britain.

Read more in blog

Reckoning with the history of slavery

Contemporary collecting focuses on issues that matter in Scotland today. Recent collecting topics include the debate about how to address the legacies of slavery.

White porcelain tea cup of Wedgwood china designed, commissioned and used by the Empire Café project, a contemporary exploration of Scotland’s relationship with the transatlantic slave trade.

This crockery was designed for use at the Empire Café, a pop-up centre for events exploring the history of Scotland’s involvement in the slave trade, set up in Glasgow during the 2014 Commonwealth Games. Tea, coffee, sugar and food served in the Empire Café linked back to commodities and profits based on slavery.

The crockery was made from specially fired Wedgewood china, chosen because of Josiah Wedgwood’s role as anti-slavery campaigner. The pieces carry the Empire Café logo, designed to emulate a china mark comprised of a boat and a book, and rendered in gold to reflect the riches made from slavery. The cups feature extracts from an anthology of contemporary Caribbean and Scottish poetry commissioned for the project.

The Empire Café was co-directed by architect Jude Barber, Director, Collective Architecture and author Louise Welsh, Professor of Creative Writing, University of Glasgow.

Watch a video on this acquisition

Find out more about our work around colonial histories and legacies in our museum

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