The good weather having deserted us, we headed indoors to check out some of the museums of Edinburgh. We started at the Scottish National Gallery, where we admired art from the Renaissance to 1900.
It’s a traditional art museum and we enjoyed the broad range of work.
(The Scottish National Academy is nearby, but we didn’t get there yet.)
We moved uphill to the National Museum of Scotland, an enormous natural history museum. On my first visit, I saw the current exhibit on the Celts. It is very extensive, with objects from Bulgaria to the Orkney Islands.
Here’s a piece from Scotland, part of the Blair torcs find (also called the Stirling torcs). The four neck-rings, or torcs, were found by a metal detectorist in 2009. The UK policy toward archaeological finds by amateur treasure hunters, mostly with metal detectors, differs from that in the US. There is a clear policy that defines what is considered “treasure” and what must be reported. Portable Antiquities Scheme–UK
In the UK, finds must be reported, but are then evaluated and the nation has right of first refusal (the government can purchase the items). After being valued at over £400,000 the four “Blair torcs” were acquired for the National Museums of Scotland with funds raised by a public appeal. All four torcs are part of the “Celts” exhibit.
[In the US, metal detecting is only permitted (legal) on private land. Anything found belongs to the landowner and does not need to be reported. Anything found on federal land is the property of the US government and is a felony to remove.] There is a lot more cooperation between detectorists and government in the UK than in the US
For comic relief, see the British TV comedy, The Detectorists. It’s on Netflix.
I have now seen ALL the Lewis chessmen. The mournful – comic faces of these characters have charmed many museum visitors over the years. I’ve seen those held by the British Museum (they have 82 of the 93 known) and now I’ve seen the 11 at the National Museum of Scotland. There are enough pieces for at least four chess sets, and ironically (based on our recent travels) they are believed to have been carved in Trondheim, northern Norway, in the 1200s.
The figures were discovered in 1831, in a stone cist built into a dune on the beach at Uig (Isle of Lewis). There is enough speculation about when and why to fill several mystery stories, though at the time, the coast of Scotland was controlled by Vikings, and its suggested the pieces were property of a merchant who may have intended to sell them to wealthy local leaders in Ireland. It is remarkable that they have only been divided into two groups over the years. They are carved from walrus ivory (teeth). Notice the center figure is biting his shield, a characteristic of Scandinavian “berserkers,” though as a chess piece it is a rook. There are excellent close ups of these figures. Lewis chessmen close-up views, National Museum of Scotland
There is also a detailed account of the chessmen on Wikipedia. Wikipedia–Lewis chessmen
The National Museum of Scotland is loaded with other exhibits and activities, including a wacky clock that chimes every hour–lasting about 15 minutes–with whirling figures and flashing lights.
Our next museum stop was the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The portrait gallery was built to be shared with the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, which it did until 2009. The structure has a shimmering frieze of figures from Scottish history that looks like something from a Byzantine church, busts of famous Scotsmen, and a small, more recent exhibit of famous Scotswomen.
There are many more museums to see in Edinburgh, and plenty of rainy days to enjoy them.