World Cultures, National Museum of Scotland

In the World Cultures galleries you can encounter diverse peoples, cultures and objects, discovering how we differ and what we all share. The objects on display are drawn from some of museum’s oldest collections and demonstrate Scotland’s international links.

The galleries are organised by theme, both offering insights into the individual cultures and providing unexpected juxtapositions.

Patterns of Life
Patterns of Life, on Level 1, explores the dynamic interaction between people and their possessions throughout the stages of life, from across the four continents. Form America to Asia, possessions reflect identity and mark important life events. They are personal or communal expressions of the diversity of cultures and traditions.

Possessions can reflect identity, mark important life events, and serve as a means of expression, such as the modern African custom of choosing a coffin in the shape of a favourite object.

Getting ready to face the day, celebrating a coming of age, or mourning the death of a loved one – there are patterns of life that connect us all.

Living Lands
Next door, Living Lands presents objects made by indigenous peoples, from the North American arctic to the deserts of Australia, and considers how landscape influences the way people lead their lives and what they believe. The displays also emphasize the modern situation, through contemporary art such as works by the Australian artist Danie Mellor.

Landscapes shape us as much as we shape them. They influence what we believe in, what we make and what we own.

From the North American arctic to the drserts of Australia, the peoples in this gallery lead contemporary lives, but their traditional values are based on a deep connection to the land – lands mapped, known and even created by their ancestors.

Facing the Sea
The Pacific is a vast ocean scattered with thousands of islands. Here, people belong as much to the sea as to the land. Facing the Sea, on Level 3, is the only gallery in the UK dedicated to the cultures of the South Pacific. The gallery looks at the cultural diversity of this region and explains how Pacific Islanders’ lives are framed by their relationships with the sea. Here you can find our Maori waka, or war canoe, sensitively completed in Perspex by contemporary artist George Nuku.

Forthousands of years Pacific Islander have trade and settle new lands. The sea provides nourishment, resources and waterways that connect island groups.

Living in this ocean of islands has shaped every aspect of peoples’ lives.

Performance and Lives
Music, sound and performance are important to people’s lives all over the world. Performance and Lives celebrates the diversity of music, dance and costume around the world. Not only can you see various instruments on display, ranging from classical to folk, but also listen to recordings and play instruments specially made for the gallery by artist Victor Gama.

Sounds and rhythm are at the centre of ceremonies and performances, from community festivals to sacred rituals.

The costumes, masks and musical instruments that are part of performance reflect long-held traditions, but also reveal how contemporary makers, musicians and performers reinterpret tradition for their own times.


Mercedes-Benz coffin
Is it a car? Is it a coffin? In fact it’s both, an amazing piece of artwork that celebrates a modern Ghanaian tradition.

Artworks by Danie Mellor
In 2013, National Museums Scotland acquired one metal sculpture and one work on paper by contemporary Australian artist Danie Mellor. Mellor’s works deal with the complex and shared histories of Europe and Australia and complement the existing collection of Australian Aboriginal material culture at the National Museum of Scotland.

Waka Taua
Maori craftsmanship and museum conservation bring to life one of our most unusual and intriguing objects.

Victor Gama’s instruments
These four unique instruments were specially created for Performance and Lives gallery at the National Museum of Scotland by internationally renowned composer and artist Victor Gama.

National Museum of Scotland
National Museum of Scotland for collections of national and international importance, preserving them, interpreting them and making them accessible to as many people as possible.

National Museum of Scotland work with museums and communities across Scotland and beyond, introducing our collections to a much wider audience than can physically visit our museums, through partnerships, research, touring exhibitions, community engagement, digital programmes and loans.

National Museum of Scotland preserve, interpret and make accessible for all, the past and present of Scotland, other nations and cultures, and the natural world. National Museums of Scotland inspiring people, connecting Scotland to the world and the world to Scotland.

National Museum of Scotland’s collections are a legacy which we look after on behalf of everyone in Scotland. Our wealth of objects represent everything from Scottish and classical archaeology to applied arts and design; from world cultures and social history to science, technology and the natural world.

The National Museums Collection Centre, in Edinburgh, is home to millions of items not currently on display. It also houses state-of-the-art facilities for conservation, taxidermy and academic research.

Through research, National Museum of Scotland aim to explain the significance of the millions of objects in our care to a wider audience. How we interpret our collections can increase public understanding of human history and the natural environment.

Explore the history of innovation in Scotland and across the world through interactive games and thought-provoking displays.