A rare casing stone from the Great Pyramid will go on display in Edinburgh from 8 February, National Museums Scotland has announced today.
The news comes on the bicentenary of the birth of the man who arranged for it to be brought to the UK, the Astronomer Royal of Scotland, Charles Piazzi Smyth (3 January 1819 – 21 February 1900).
The large block of fine white limestone is one of the few surviving casing stones from the Great Pyramid and will be displayed in a new, permanent gallery at the Museum - Ancient Egypt Rediscovered. On public view for the first time since it came to Scotland in 1872, the stone will form the centrepiece of a display about the design and construction of pyramids in ancient Egypt; the only one of its kind in the UK.
The story of the casing stone
The stone was brought to Britain for Charles Piazzi Smyth, who, alongside his geologist wife Jessie, conducted the first largely accurate survey of the Great Pyramid in 1865. The couple originally displayed the block in their Edinburgh home.
Built for King Khufu and dating to c2589–2566 BC, the Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest and largest of the three pyramids in the Giza pyramid complex. While its interior was made from local stone, it was clad in bright white, polished limestone brought from a quarry at Tura, 15km down the Nile. It would have gleamed in the sun and had a smooth, shining finish, unlike the rough, ‘stepped’ surface which is more recognisable today.
Few casing stones survive on the Great Pyramid itself. In 1303 AD, a huge earthquake loosened some of the stones, many of which were taken to use for buildings elsewhere. The block in National Museums Scotland’s collection was found buried among rubble at the foot of the Great Pyramid. On display alongside it will be some of Charles Piazzi Smyth’s measuring equipment and statues of Imhotep - the inventor of the pyramid who was later deified as a god of wisdom - and of King Snefru, who commissioned the first true pyramid.
An insight into one of the seven wonders of the world
Dr Margaret Maitland, Senior Curator, Ancient Mediterranean at National Museums Scotland said: “We are very excited to be able to offer our visitors the chance to see the only casing stone from the Great Pyramid on display anywhere outside of Egypt. One of the seven wonders of the world, many people don’t know that the Great Pyramid would have appeared very different when it was first constructed, thanks to a pristine cladding of polished white limestone. This casing stone will give visitors to the National Museum a fascinating insight into how one of the most iconic buildings on the planet would have once looked.”
Ancient Egypt Rediscovered
Ancient Egypt Rediscovered is a new, permanent gallery at the National Museum of Scotland covering 4,000 years of history. The opening of the gallery coincides with the 200th anniversary of the first ancient Egyptian objects entering National Museums Scotland’s collections.
Objects on display include:
- the only intact royal burial group outside of Egypt
- the only double coffin ever discovered in Egypt
- a cosmetics box which is one of the finest examples of decorative woodwork to survive from ancient Egypt
- The gallery also charts the contribution made by Scots to the development of Egyptology
Read an in-depth curator review of the three new galleries in National Museums Scotland, in Mar/Apr History Scotland - subscribe today and never miss an issue.
The new ancient Egypt and East Asia galleries are made possible through the support of The National Lottery with the Heritage Lottery Fund as well as other major trusts, foundations and individual donors. Generous funding from the Sir James Miller Edinburgh Trust has enabled the creation of Art of Ceramics.
(images copyright National Museums Scotland)