Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
The National (Scotland)
The National (Scotland)
Adam Robertson

'A fitting new home': Scottish museum prepares to reopen to the public

IN a small village in Argyll and Bute, you’ll find a place so steeped in Scotland’s ancient past that at times it’s almost hard to comprehend just what you’re dealing with.

It’s a place of ancient rituals. A place where Kings were made, a place of standing stones and stories of lives so different from our own.

Known as much for its natural beauty as its history, Kilmartin is home to one of the most impressive collections of prehistoric artefacts in the UK.

But, more importantly, it's now a place with a museum worthy of representing the beauty and history with which it’s so closely associated.

Filled with artefacts dating back 5000 years and with newly built research laboratories and education facilities, Kilmartin Museum is due to re-open to the public on September 3.

In an exclusive chat with the Sunday National, the museum’s director and curator Dr Sharon Webb spoke about the museum’s long re-development process and why it’s so crucial that people now have access to Scotland’s ancient past.

Getting back up and running

The original museum opened in 1997 and, while the exhibition was well received, change was needed around fifteen years later.

“Our collection had grown to about 20,000 artefacts and we didn’t have room to display them and architecturally things needed changing so we set out on the redevelopment project and 12 years later this is the culmination of it all”, Webb explained.

Wandering around the museum, it’s easy to see there’s a focus on education and interactivity.

There’s a chance to learn how to spin yarn, to hold replicas of unearthed swords and to try using a stone to make your own grain.

Making sure that the museum was a place where school groups could come was central to the museum’s redevelopment.

Webb explained: “There’s a new learning centre where kids can go and do activities and we have labs for ongoing research.

“We’ve got loads of touchscreens and things that are interactive. Some of these stories are quite intellectual and complex and appealing to different audiences can be challenging in a museum setting.”

What can you find inside?

The exhibition inside the museum starts by explaining a little bit about the surrounding Kilmartin Glen and then takes people back through time.

Around 6000 years ago, people started constructing ritual and burial monuments in the Glen – many have a been lost to time while many are still yet to be discovered.

A standing stone circle remains at Temple Wood located just a few minutes from the museum. What’s left is the remnants of a sacred arena where people gathered to stage rituals and express their beliefs.

Incredibly, the museum holds the unearthed skeleton of a woman who was buried 4000 years ago with her body carefully moved to a site inside to show the position in which she was placed when she died along with a reconstruction of what she might have looked like (below). 

Also among its collection are a series of artefacts including neolithic arrowheads (below) and pots which date back to the Bronze Age. 

The Glen is known for its linear cemetery of five burial cairns and its obvious how closely the museum and the landscape are connected with many of the historical sites visible from the windows and easily accessible for anyone wishing to walk out to them.

Also located in the Glen is Dunadd Fort, where Kings of Dal Riata – the name given to the Scottish kingdom of 1500 years ago – ruled from.

What’s left of the heart of the kingdom remains one of the most important medieval sites in the entire country.

‘Scotland’s most beautiful area’

SNP MSP for Argyll and Bute Jenni Minto (below) attended the preview of the opening of the new museum and told The Sunday National how “privileged” she was to represent “Scotland’s most beautiful constituency”.

“It’s not just because of the scenery but because of the people and its culture as well”, she said. 

“For me Kilmartin Museum sums up all three of these and it is fantastic to be here now this beautiful building with all this amazing culture that people from Argyll now will be able to see easily as will people from across the world.”

Minto jokes that she herself found the period of history a little “boring” but that the museum “brings the people alive”.

“When I was able to imagine people here, that’s when all this came alive here and that’s what we’re going to see.”

The development process has been long and hard, hit not just by a global pandemic but by rising costs as well.

Webb admits that she’s a bit emotional ahead of opening day now everything has come to fruition.

“I don’t feel necessarily elated, there’s a bit of relief because there’s been many moments we thought we might not do it”, she said.

“It was such a challenge to get funding and you never know how it’s going to look. I’m really, really happy with the result and I love the building.

“I really wanted the building to signal that it was a cultural destination. I need a bit of time to let the whole thing settle.

“It’s a fitting new home for everything.”

Anyone who looks for more information on Kilmartin will often see that it’s described as a “hidden gem”.

Looking around at what the museum has to offer, it’s hard to see it staying that way for long.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.