Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

The Honest Truth: Curator scrolls back the years to shine light on ancient Egypt

Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics in the Temple of Ramses II (DeAgostini/Getty Images)
Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics in the Temple of Ramses II (DeAgostini/Getty Images)

ANCIENT Egypt Discovered is one of three new permanent galleries opened last week at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Senior curator Dr Margaret Maitland tells Bill Gibb the Honest Truth about one of the earliest and most fascinating civilisations.

When did you know you wanted to become an Egyptologist?

When I was six years old. I read a book on ancient Egypt in our school library, went home and told my parents that I wanted to become an Egyptologist. My interest was really reaffirmed at university. I was completely spellbound, being able to hear these ancient people speak in their own words. We have some amazing Egyptian writing in the gallery, including an important historical inscription by a general who fought in many battles under six different pharaohs.

What was your vision for Ancient Egypt Rediscovered?

I wanted to create a gallery that would challenge stereotypes and inspire visitors to learn more. The opening coincides with the 200th anniversary of the first ancient Egyptian objects entering National Museums Scotland’s collections and this gallery showcases and interprets the full breadth of our internationally significant collection.


How extensive is it?

We explore how this incredible culture developed across more than 4,000 years. The gallery spotlights the remarkable stories of individual objects and the people who made, owned, and used them, as well as those who eventually rediscovered them, such as Alexander Henry Rhind, a Scot who was the first archaeologist to work in Egypt.

Dr Margaret Maitland of the National Museum of Scotland (Phil Wilkinson)


What can visitors to the new gallery expect to see?

Most of the gallery is presented chronologically. Further displays compare burials in different periods and look at how monumental building shifted from pyramids to temples. The stories of specific individuals are told, exploring what their lives were like at a particular time and place. These include Tairtsekher, a girl who lived in the village of the workmen who built the tombs in the Valley of the Kings.


What are some of the standout objects?

A particular highlight is the intact burial of an unknown woman who was probably a member of the royal family at Thebes while northern Egypt was under foreign control. The only intact royal burial outside of Egypt on display is her beautiful gilded coffin and exquisite gold jewellery, finely-crafted pottery and other decorative items. Also on display are the only double coffin ever found in Egypt and a decorative box of King Amenhotep II. One of the most striking pieces in the gallery is also one of the smallest; a tiny, gold catfish pendant, which is a masterpiece of ancient Egyptian goldsmithing and may have been worn at the end of a plait in a girl’s hair.


From hieroglyphics to Mummy masks, why are people so fascinated by the objects of ancient Egypt?

There’s such a wealth of material preserved from ancient Egypt – more surviving evidence than most other ancient cultures – which is great fuel for understanding and imagination. People find the monuments, gold, and burial practices particularly captivating.


What’s the most unusual object on display?

I’d have to say a stripy sock, which is colourful and in fantastic condition. The big toe is separated so that it could be worn with sandals.


What is the biggest misconception people have about ancient Egypt?

People forget it was a culture that lasted for thousands of years. To put things into perspective, Cleopatra lived closer in time to the present day than to the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza.

Most people will be unaware that for over a third of its history, ancient Egypt was dominated by foreign rulers.

These encounters influenced the occupiers and Egypt itself, whether it was fashionable hairstyles or technologies like the wheel and chariot.