Scotland’s Links to Ancient Egypt

Find out background information, lesson seeds and links to resources on Scotland’s links with Ancient Egypt.

This is an Archaeology Scotland-produced resource showcasing Ancient Egypt resources and the places to visit them in Scotland; architecture and art motifs and objects that flowed from Egypt to Scotland as an Egyptian Revival swept the world 1800s-1920s; and Scottish explorers, such as archaeologists, in Egypt, from the past and now.Archaeology Scotland 75 years (c) Archaeology Scotland


Architecture and Art (motifs)…from Egypt to Scotland

Ancient Egyptian motifs can be found on Scottish buildings, for example the roof of the Royal Scottish Academy in Edinburgh. This is part of the Egyptian Revival Movement, a craze that spread around the world after Napoleon invaded Egypt in 1798 and discovered the Rosetta stone in 1799.

We’re lucky in Scotland. To find out what Egyptian-influenced architecture, motifes and ornaments are in your area you can use the most amazing resource: ‘Influences of Ancient Egypt on architecture and ornament in Scotland’, John Aidan Parker’s 2012 PhD Thesis from University of Edinburgh. It’s an accessible and fascinating read; it includes examples from 1700s-1900s in Scotland, such as gravemarkers, church steeples, mausoleums, sphynx – and even lighthouses!

Lesson seed: Obelisks are narrow tetrahedrons with a pyramid-like shapes on top. Compare and contrast Ancient Egypt obelisks with Scottish ones:  where they were/are found, how they were used, etc. The ancient Egyptians placed them as pairs in front of temples and the obelisk shape may have been associated with the sun god, Ra. Scottish obelisks are replicas found in cemeteries as burial monuments and as civic statues, such as Nelson’s Column in Glasgow. In addition to Parker, search Wikipedia for a list of obelisks in Scotland.

Ancient Objects

Many Scottish museums hold Egyptian objects, as explorers and collectors brought back artefacts over the past 200 years. National Museums Scotland’s gallery  ‘Ancient Egypt Rediscovered’ opened in 2019, and the Burrell Collection in Glasgow (closed for refurbishment until 2020), have particularly large collections.

Find out why an Egyptian Sarcophagus is buried in South Lanarkshire by checking out this Dig It! TV video on the Hamilton Mausoleum


Below are the Scottish explorers who did (and do) meaningful work in Egypt:

  • Alexander Henry Rhind was only 30 when he died but had a huge impact on archaeology: In the 1850s, he was the first to use proper excavation techniques and scientific archaeology methods in Egypt. This means that we are able to use his excavation records and drawings to accurately reconstruct what he excavated.  He is known for bringing the mathematically significant Rhind papyrus to academic light. He also advocated conserving monuments and keeping them in Egypt rather than the practice of the time of cutting out ancient work and sending these to collectors and museums abroad. In 2017, National Museums Scotland recreated part of his work in their exhibition The Tomb: Ancient Egyptian Burial. Further information on Rhind is in Claire Gilmore’s paper in the 2015 Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland
  • Edinburgh’s David Roberts’ 1838-9 paintings are primary evidence – they show many Egyptian sites at the time…before they went through the process of restoration, which may have been more of an imaginative process than a scientific one.

Find out more about Roberts, Rhind and other Scots explorers in Egyptology Scotland’s ‘Scots and Egyptology’ resource.

In Victorian and pre-war Britain, Egyptology was one of the few ‘acceptable’ academic subjects for women. Some Scottish women were:

Many of these women (such as London-born Amelia Edwards, founder of the Egypt Exploration Society), went on to play a key role in the Suffragette movement!

Scotland’s modern day Egyptologist-academics-explorers include Dr Angela McDonald (University of Glasgow),  Dr Joanne Rowland (University of Edinburgh) and Glasgow-born Dr Campbell Price (Manchester Museum). Campbell has a great blog and Twitter feed @EgyptMcr if you want to see what his world of work is really like!

We’d like to thank our funders, Historic Environment Scotland

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Featured image: Photo by Fynn schmidt on Unsplash

Posted by: Archaeology Scotland

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Post Author: r.boyde