In the World Cultures galleries you can encounter diverse peoples, cultures and objects, discovering how we differ and what we all share. The objects on display are drawn from some of museum’s oldest collections and demonstrate Scotland's international links.

The galleries are organised by theme, both offering insights into the individual cultures and providing unexpected juxtapositions.

World Cultures galleries 

Above: World Cultures Galleries.

Patterns of Life, on Level 1, explores the dynamic interaction between people and their possessions throughout the stages of life, from across the four continents. Possessions can reflect identity, mark important life events, and serve as a means of expression, such as the modern African custom of choosing a coffin in the shape of a favourite object.

Next door, Living Lands presents objects made by indigenous peoples, from the North American arctic to the deserts of Australia, and considers how landscape influences the way people lead their lives and what they believe. The displays also emphasize the modern situation, through contemporary art such as works by the Australian artist Danie Mellor.

Living Lands sculptures by Wally Pwerle

Above: Sculptures by Wally Pwerle in the Living Lands gallery.

Also on Level 1, young children can develop their senses in the vibrant Imagine gallery, by interacting with shapes, colours, patterns and motifs taken from around the world.

Facing the Sea, on  Level 3, is the only gallery in the UK dedicated to the cultures of the South Pacific. The gallery looks at the cultural diversity of this region and explains how Pacific Islanders’ lives are framed by their relationships with the sea. Here you can find our Maori waka, or war canoe, sensitively completed in Perspex by contemporary artist George Nuku.

Facing the Sea

Above: The Maori war canoe, known as a waka in the Facing the Sea gallery.

Performance and Lives celebrates the diversity of music, dance and costume around the world. Not only can you see various instruments on display, ranging from classical to folk, but also listen to recordings and play instruments specially made for the gallery by artist Victor Gama.

Lastly, in the Imagine gallery on Level 1, young children (0–8 years) can develop their senses by interacting with shapes, colours, patterns and motifs taken from around the world.

On Level 5, you'll find our two newest galleries, Ancient Egypt Rediscovered and Exploring East Asia.

Qurna burial in the Ancient Egypt Rediscovered gallery

Above: The Qurna burial on display in the Ancient Egypt Rediscovered gallery. Photo © Andy Catlin.

Explore the remarkable culture and achievements of the ancient Egyptians, and come face to face with individual objects and the people who made, owned, and used them, as well as the archaeologists who discovered them centuries later. Think you can build the perfect pyramid? Want to peek into the After Life or creating a name in hieroglyphs? Now's your chance with our new digital games.

Other highlights include the Qurna burial, the only intact royal burial group outside of Egypt, a gold ring said to have belonged to Queen Nefertiti and a unique double coffin of two half-brothers, Petamun and Penhorpabik.

Examining a handscroll in the Exploring East Asia gallery.

Above: An interactive screen allows you to examine a rare handscroll in the Exploring East Asia gallery. Photo © Andy Catlin.

In Exploring East Asia, you can experience the sights and sounds of three fascinating and dynamic cultures: China, Japan and Korea. Among the highlights are a Chinese lacquerware rice measure from the Ming dynasty, a Japanese woodblock print of the celebrated Kabuki actor, Ichikawa Ebizo V and a rare and important early survival Korean lotus-shaped cup and stand from the 13th century. You can even try your hand at writing Chinese characters in our interactive game.

Maryam Salour's ceramic poppies on display in the Inspired by Nature gallery

Above: Maryam Salour's ceramic poppies on display in the Inspired by Nature gallery.

Also on Level 5, Artistic Legacies illuminates the relationship between artistic traditions and the work of contemporary artists, exemplified by African artist Gérard Quenum’s arresting sculpture L’Ange. Next door, Inspired by Nature examines the ways in which humanity has engaged emotionally, spiritually, religiously and culturally with nature through art. Don’t miss the elegant, evocative poppies by contemporary sculptor Maryam Salour.


Header image: Statue of Weituo in the Exploring East Asia gallery. Photo © Andy Catlin.

On display

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African dolls

These multi-coloured plastic dolls, western in their appearance, are very popular in Africa today.
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Artworks by Danie Mellor

In 2013, National Museums Scotland acquired one metal sculpture and one work on paper by contemporary Australian artist Danie Mellor.
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Benin head of a king

One of the highlights of our World Cultures African collections comes from the kingdom of Benin in Nigeria. This sophisticated bronze sculpture commemorates the sacred person of an Oba or King.
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Bini-Portuguese saltcellars

Carved in the royal workshops of Benin, in West Africa, these late 16th-century ivory saltcellars are early examples of African souvenirs made for the European market.
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Box of Amenhotep II

This box inscribed with the name of Pharaoh Amenhotep II is one of the finest examples of decorative woodwork to survive from ancient Egypt.
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Our Chinese collection

From ancient ceramics to imperial jade, oracle bones to propaganda posters, our Chinese collection spans over three thousand years and includes around 9,300 items.
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Classical collection

Our Classical collection unlocks a window to a ‘birthplace of civilisation’: ancient Greece and Rome.
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Coral necklace

This opulent deep red coral and 18 carat gold necklace was created by Yazzie Johnson and Gail Bird.
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Crane Dance

This woven bamboo flower basket titled ‘Crane Dance’ was created by Japanese artist Buseki Suikō in 2009.
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Ere ibeji figures

These carved wooden sculptures from West Africa represent the souls of deceased twins.
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Jain painting

Discover how this stunning, detailed wall hanging was brought back to life by our Textile Conservation team.
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Jean Jenkins collection

Delve into the diverse collection of pioneering ethnomusicologist Jean Jenkins.
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Kingfisher headdress

Inspired by nature, conserved by our Conservation team: uncover the story behind this fragile Chinese artefact.
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Korean Glass 15

How can a vase reflect the experience of living between two cultures? This beautiful vase created by South Korean, Edinburgh-based artist Choi Keeryong, expresses this sense of 'inbetween-ness'.
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Gérard Quenum's 'L'Ange'

This bold and engaging sculpture is a mixed media piece made from recycled found objects.
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Mercedes-Benz coffin

Is it a car? Is it a coffin? In fact it’s both, an amazing piece of artwork that celebrates a modern Ghanaian tradition.
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Hanging Scroll Painting

This delightful 18th-century Japanese hanging scroll celebrates the New Year.
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Netsuke

Explore our collection of wonderful miniature Japanese sculptures that served functional and aesthetic purposes.
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Qurna burial

In 1908, an undisturbed ancient Egyptian burial was discovered by Flinders Petrie in Qurna Thebes.
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Pyramid casing stone

This block is one of the few surviving casing stones from the Great Pyramid of Giza, built for King Khufu. It is the only pyramid casing stone on display outside Egypt.
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Tibetan prayer wheel house

The Tibetan Prayer Wheel House offers visitors a tangible experience of a common feature of Tibetan culture.
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Shetland Young Fiddler of the Year 2009 Chapman Cheng tries out the Shetland fiddle.

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Shetland fiddle

Discover how this traditional Scottish instrument was commissioned for the Performance and Lives gallery in the National Museum of Scotland.
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Standing heech by Parviz Tanavoli

This green fibreglass cast sculpture titled ‘Standing Heech’ was created by renowned Iranian artist Parviz Tanavoli. The work is a three dimensional representation of the Persian word ‘heech’, meaning ‘nothing’.
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Valley of Lar poppies

These five sculptured earthenware blossoms with their brilliant orange-red glazes recall the poppies of Lar Valley in Iran.
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Victor Gama's instruments

These four unique instruments were specially created for Performance and Lives gallery at the National Museum of Scotland by internationally renowned composer and artist Victor Gama.
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Waka Taua

Maori craftsmanship and museum conservation bring to life one of our most unusual and intriguing objects.
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Weaving loom collected by David Livingstone

A weaving loom collected by David Livingstone among the Mang’anja people in Mozambique or Malawi reveals fascinating links between past and present.
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Weituo

Meet the Buddhist guardian who's watched over the museum for 70 years.
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