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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Scotland Bares Its History, From Bones to Bras




EDINBURGH -- The new National Museum of Scotland opened Monday, providing a permanent home for the nation's collection of artifacts ancient and modern, from a missionary's bones to a Wonderbra.


Workers were still putting the finishing touches to the building the day before Queen Elizabeth arrived for the official opening of the pounds 52 million ($86 million) museum. Monday was also Scotland's National Day.


Museum staff toiled all weekend unpacking some of the 10,000 exhibits telling the story of Scotland from the very earliest days to the eve of the next millennium.


"The Royal Museum shows the rest of the world to Scots," said Robert Smith, chairman of the museum's trustees. "This new building will show Scotland to the world."


The museum has taken years to turn into reality, years that have been full of controversy. The site, close to the center of the Scottish capital, was earmarked in 1952 and cleared of existing buildings, including the original home of one of Edinburgh's famous schools, in 1971.


Some exhibits, like the oldest surviving Scottish-built locomotive and a Newcomen beam steam engine used to pump water out of a coal mine for nearly 100 years, were so large that they were installed at the outset and then built around.


Visitors enter through a castle-like tower and are led underground to the first of six galleries.


This charts geological history, leading to early wildlife and inhabitants. The prime exhibit is Lizzie, the world's oldest fossil, a 340-million-year-old reptile found in a local quarry.


Moving up a level, the "Kingdom of the Scots" gallery looks at 900 years of Scottish political and religious history.


First to see is the Monymusk Reliquary, containing the bones of St. Columba - the missionary who brought Christianity to Scotland in the Dark Ages - and so revered that it was carried at the battle of Bannockburn, where Robert the Bruce won independence from England.


A brooch worn by Mary Queen of Scots is displayed here, and a stirrup cup presented to her son James with the horse that took him to London to claim the English throne in 1603.


Among a macabre display of manacles and instruments of punishment is "The Maiden," a guillotine used for public executions in Edinburgh but discarded a century before a similar machine achieved notoriety in the French Revolution.


Three subsequent levels cover Scotland after the Act of Union in 1707, with a side-glance at Bonnie Prince Charlie and the 1745 rising.


There are the light cannon from the Carron foundry that gave dominance of the seas to British navies at the end of the 18th century as well as the world's first rotary printing press.


Most controversial, though, is the top gallery devoted to the 20th century. Celebrities and members of the public were asked to nominate things that represented their life and times.


Prime Minister Tony Blair chose a Fender Stratocaster electric guitar. Actor Sean Connery chose the Declaration of Arbroath, which asserted Scotland's freedom in 1320 - and part of the text is displayed in a milk bottle, to signify the film star's original job in Edinburgh. Broadcaster Ruth Wishart named the contraceptive pill.


Other choices included a Saab convertible car, a Wonderbra, a zipper and a microphone.