Great Pyramid stone to go on show in Edinburgh

Assistant curator Dr Daniel Potter, of National Museum of Scotland, with the casing stone from the Great Pyramid which will go on show in Edinburgh. PIC: NMS.
Assistant curator Dr Daniel Potter, of National Museum of Scotland, with the casing stone from the Great Pyramid which will go on show in Edinburgh. PIC: NMS.
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A piece of stone from the Great Pyramid of Giza is to go on show in Edinburgh in the only display of its kind outside Egypt.

The large block of fine white limestone is one of the few surviving casing stones from the Great Pyramid and will be displayed in the new, permanent Ancient Egypt Rediscovered gallery at the National Museum of Scotland.

An illustration from Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid, by Charles Piazzi Smyth, 1890, who brought the casing stone to Edinburgh. PIC: Contributed/NMS.

An illustration from Our Inheritance in the Great Pyramid, by Charles Piazzi Smyth, 1890, who brought the casing stone to Edinburgh. PIC: Contributed/NMS.

The stone was originally brought to the UK by Charles Piazzi Smyth, the former Astronomer Royal of Scotland, in 1872.

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It was originally displayed in the Edinburgh home of Smyth who, along with his geologist wife Jessie, conducted the first largely accurate survey of the Great Pyramid in 1865.

From next month, the block will form the centrepiece of a display about the design and construction of pyramids in ancient Egypt.

Charles Piazzi Smyth, the former Astronomer Royal for Scotland in 1846, who put the stone on display in his Edinburgh home after bringing it to Scotland. PIC: Copyright Science Photo Library.

Charles Piazzi Smyth, the former Astronomer Royal for Scotland in 1846, who put the stone on display in his Edinburgh home after bringing it to Scotland. PIC: Copyright Science Photo Library.

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.

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“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.”

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, around nine miles down the Nile.

The limestone 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.

Ancient Egypt Rediscovered is a new, permanent gallery at the National Museum of Scotland covering 4,000 years of history.

The opening of this 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 and a cosmetics box which is one of the finest examples of decorative woodwork to survive from ancient Egypt.

The gallery, which will open on February 8, will also chart the remarkable contribution made by Scots to the development of Egyptology.

Two other new galleries, Exploring East Asia and Art of Ceramics, will open on the same day.