Explore Scottish History and Archaeology from the Palaeolithic era to the present day, from the prehistory and Scotland's earliest people to the industrial revolution and contemporary culture.

Come face to face with iconic artefacts, discover how the lives of Scots have changed and learn how Scottish innovation shaped the modern world on one of our themed tours. This guide helps you to find out a little more about what each of our Scottish history and Archaeology themed tours cover.  

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

Abbots and Elders – The Church in Scotland

Explore the history of the Church in Scotland and objects associated with Christianity.  Explore the stories behind the Monymusk Reliquary to The Moray Aisle.

Galleries: Kingdom of the Scots, Scotland Transformed

The Auld Alliance

This tour investigates the alliance between France and Scotland that transpired from 1295-1560. It will introduce you to key figures from this period, which include Cardinal Beaton, Marie de Guise, Mary, Queen of Scots and James VI.

Galleries: Kingdom of the Scots 

Bagpipes and other Instruments

Tune up in this tour about musical instruments and representation of instruments in Scotland. This tour will delve into the history of this iconic instruments such as the Deskford Carnyx and the Great Highland Pipes.

GalleriesIndustry and Empire, Scotland Transformed, Kingdom of the Scots and Early People

Beginnings / Beginnings of Scotland, Land and People

There are two tours that look at the Beginnings galleries, which explore the first three billion years of Scotland's history. These tours discuss the shaping of Scotland from the Pre-Cambrian to the Ice Age: looking at geology, continental drift, origins of mountains, glaciation and the Ice Age. 

Galleries: Beginnings and Early People

Body-snatchers to Body Scans

The tour examines objects illustrating the role of body-snatchers in the teaching of anatomy in 18th and 19th century Edinburgh and in the 21st century looks at how new scanning techniques have revolutionised how we can now visualise anatomy.

Galleries: Scotland Transformed, Scotland a Changing Nation and Science and Technology

Caledonia - Rome’s North West Frontier

This tour looks at the objects that give us an insight in to life of Roman soldiers stationed in Caledonia when it was Rome's North West Frontier.

Galleries: Scottish History and Archaeology galleries, Early People

Chess, Chintz and Curry

Explore the exchange of goods and ideas between India and Europe, with a particular focus on Scotland’s involvement.

Galleries: World Cultures galleries, Discoveries, Fashion and Style and Scottish galleries.

18th Century Scotland

Uncover how Scotland transitioned from poverty to riches in the 18th century.

Galleries: Kingdom of the Scots and Scotland Transformed

The Industrial Revolution

Explore how Scotland was moulded by industrial development. This tour will take in inventions which shaped the modern world of industry, from the mighty Newcomen Engine and Boulton and Watt engine. There are two different tours that explore this theme. 

Galleries: Scotland Transformed, Industry and Empire

The Jacobite Risings

The Jacobite legend has an enduring fascination, with compelling stories of love, loss, exile, rebellion and retribution. This tour will focus on the armed revolts which aimed to restore the Stuart Dynasty.

Galleries: Kingdom of the Scots and Scotland Transformed

Life, Belief and Death in Early Scotland

Uncover a selection of objects that tell us about life, belief and death in Scotland from earliest times to the high medieval period.

Galleries: Early People and Beginnings 

Life in Georgian Edinburgh

Journey back in time to explore life in Georgian Edinburgh (1750-1850). This tour will delve into many aspects of ordinary life (medicine, religion, sport, social life), plus reveal further stories of the building of the New Town, The Enlightenment, grave robbing and familiar characters like Deacon Brodie and Robert Burns. 

Galleries: Trade and Industry and Spirit of the Age

Made in Scotland by Man and Machine

Explore the development of 18th century cottage industry through to the mechanisation of manufacturing. Taking in the Science and Technology galleries, this tour will look at machine power, control and intelligence.

Galleries: Discoveries and Making It

Pain, Death and Punishment

Traverse the darker forms torture and punishment that have been used to maintain social order in Scotland, then unearth the way death has been commemorated over time. There may be encounters with the Maiden and the Mortsafe

Galleries: Industry and Empire, Scotland Transformed and Kingdom of the Scots

Picts and Vikings

The Picts occupied eastern and northern parts of Scotland from around 300 AD and 900 AD, but who were the Picts? This tour will explore Pictish origins and Viking invasions, plus their effect in Scotland.

Galleries: Early People and Kingdom of the Scots

The Picts

Uncover the carynx, stone carvings and metalwork objects that highlight connections with people or communities in the North of Scotland during the Iron Age. 

Gallery: Early People

Romans versus Picts

Discover more about these mysterious early inhabitants of Scotland and their clash of cultures in this tour. 

Galleries: Wider Horizons and Them and Us

The Romans in Scotland

At the height of its power, the Roman Empire covered a large portion of Europe. Discover discover where they went and what they left behind in this tour which examines weapons, coins and other objects from the Roman occupation in Scotland.

Gallery: Early People

Monymusk Reliquary, one of the most treasured objects in the National Museum of Scotland.

Saints and Sinners

This tour examines the polarisation of right and wrong in earlier centuries. Looking at objects like the Monymusk Reliquary and the Maiden, it will highlight the contrast of items designed to encourage virtue and deter vice. 

Galleries: Scotland Defined, Monarchy and Power, The Reformed Church, The Church.

Some Scottish Industries

The development of industries in Scotland from 18th to 20th century centuries. Looking at the machinery and products used in the textile, engineering, shipbuilding, railway, potter and offshore oil industries.

Galleries: Scotland Transformed, Industry and Empire, Scotland a Changing Nation.

Scotland's Pacific Connections

Explore the links between Scotland and the Pacific Ocean region, travel to the region and artistic cross-fertilization.

Galleries: World Cultures, Discoveries, Grand Gallery and Scottish Galleries.

Scotland's First People

Discover artefacts created by Scotland's Stone Age ancestors.

Galleries: Early People.

The Scots in North America

This tour will look at Scottish people who emigrated to North America from 1700-1900.

Galleries: Kingdom of the Scots, Scotland Transformed and Industry and Empire.

Scottish Christianity to 1000 AD

Learn about the arrival of Christianity in Scotland. This tour takes in objects dating from around 140 AD to 1000 AD, including the Hilton of CadbollTraprain Law Treasure and Hunterston Brooch. 

Gallery: Early People

Scottish Inventors and Inventions

Made in Scotland, Scottish scientists and engineers have made discoveries that have changed our relationship with the world around us. This tour introduces a selection of inventions and inventors from 16th century to the present day.

Galleries: Science and Technology and Scottish Galleries

Scottish Science and Technology

Explore the history of innovation in Scotland, taking in the Science and Technology galleries, this tour will illustrate the contribution of Scotland to science and technology from the 18th century to the present day.

Galleries: Grand Gallery, Explore, Industry and Empire, Enquire and Scotland Transformed

Scottish Lighthouses

Discover the story of the people who designed, built and operated Scotland's lighthouses, lighting a safe passage for mariners for more than 250 years, through the objects which brought their role to life.

Galleries: Industry and Empire, Grand Gallery and Discoveries

Silver made in Scotland

From the Traprain Law Treasure to the Hunterston Brooch, this tour will seek out a vast range of objects that highlight silver making in Scotland. Moving from Roman to Victorian times, this will share key nuggets of history associated with these pieces. 

Galleries: Early People, Kingdom of the Scots, Scotland Transformed and Industry and Empire

The Ordinary People of Scotland

This tour looks at many different aspects of life in Scotland during the 18th and early 19th century. From food, shelter and clothing that sustained people, to the music, games and sport that entertained them. 

Galleries: Scotland Transformed

The Scot Abroad

From Scottish naturalist and conservationist John Muir to pioneering engineer John Logie Baird. This tour will look Scottish People who emmigrated, or traded overseas. 

Galleries: Discoveries, Kingdom of the Scots, Scotland Transformed and Scotland, A Changing Nation.

The Stuarts

The Royal House of Stuart - one of Europe’s most enduring dynasties; was a dynasty with a claim to unite three kingdoms: Scotland, England and Ireland. Discover more about the legends of Mary, Queen of Scots and James VI. 

Galleries: Kingdom of the Scots and Scotland Transformed

The Vikings in Scotland

Uncover the legacy of the Vikings in Scotland. From Viking raids and the development of the Viking empire, to what burial finds (weapons, tools, jewellery), reveal about life and trade. One of the highlights is the Lewis Chessmen that were found on the Scottish Isle of Lewis in 1831. 

Galleries: Early People and Kingdom of the Scots.

Victorian Scotland

Learn about the social and economic conditions in Scotland during the Victorian era.

Galleries: Scotland Transformed: Industry and Empire

We, The People

Meet objects that tell the tales of struggles for independence and democracy in Scotland. Travelling through time, encounters will move from the Monymusk reliquary (that is thought to have been made towards the beginning of the 8th century), to the Darien Chest and Bonnie Prince Charlie's silver travelling canteen. 

Galleries: Early People, Kingdom of the Scots, Industry and Empire, Scotland: A Changing Nation

Weights, Measures and Counters

Learn about measurements of time & temperature. You'll find out more about Napier's Bones (a means of simplifying complex calculations), alongside many other means of measuring from different periods in history.

Galleries: Early People, Kingdom of the Scots, Scotland Transformed, Industry and Empire and Scotland, A Changing Nation

A Working Life

Discover how people in Scotland have made their living. This tour will include key objects like the printing press and the Corliss Engine.  

Galleries: Scotland A Changing Nation, Industry and Empire and Scotland Transformed.

Header image: Group of three bronze figures, 'A Generous Land', by Eduardo Paolozzi, 1998 © Trustees of the Paolozzi Foundation.

Explore more

Scottish History and Archaeology galleries

Our Scottish galleries guide you from the Palaeolithic era to the present day, from the earliest cultures to space age science.

Meet our volunteer guides

Our guided tours are run by a number of enthusiastic and experienced volunteer guides. We introduce a selection of our guides below.


Join our volunteer guides on an introductory tour and discover some highlights of the collection.
Book a tour


Private Booked Tours for Individuals and Groups

All our tours are available as private, booked tours.

The cost of a private, booked tour is £5.00 per person (we make a minimum charge of £50.00 per guided group).  One guide is allocated to every 15 people. 

Tours are subject to guide availability and a minimum of 3 weeks’ notice is requested. Please contact tours@nms.ac.uk for further information and tour request form.

Daily Themed Tour

Times: 15:00 (1 hr)
Cost: Free

Join us for our exciting programme of tours with a different theme each day. Meet at the Tour Meeting Point, Entrance Hall, Level 0. Find out more about themed tours in April. 

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