Experts Try to Explain Why Ancient Egyptian Statues Were Found in Scotland
A Scottish schoolboy made quite the discovery in 1952 when he was digging up potatoes and instead found an ancient Egyptian statue in the ground. Now, decades later, experts are putting forward their theories about how it got there.
Dr. Elizabeth Goring, the onetime curator of Mediterranean archaeology at National Museums Scotland, is sharing the stories of its discoveries—and the theories around its location in the Fife peninsula—in the forthcoming Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland journal. Her successor, Dr. Margaret Maitland, also contributed to the work.
“Excavating and researching these finds at Melville House has been the most unusual project in my archaeological career, and I’m delighted to now be telling the story in full,” Goring told The Independent. “Uncovering ancient Egyptian objects in Fife is clearly unexpected, and the subsequent research to establish the origins of the collection has provided a fascinating tale, albeit one with further mysteries which may never be solved.”
What makes the mystery even more compelling is that the statue found in 1952 was just the first object with ties to ancient Egypt that was discovered on the grounds of the school there. In 1966, a schoolboy found an Egyptian bronze statuette of an Apis bull. Coincidentally, the teacher who brought the object into the museum for analysis was the same boy who found the first piece 14 years prior. But rather than have the museum clean it, he took it home with him and it was never seen again.
Nearly two decades later, in 1984, Goring was working at the museum when a group of teenagers brought her an ancient Egyptian bronze figurine of a man. Remembering what she’d learned about the past discoveries and their location on the school’s grounds, she believed there had to be a connection between them all.
The new research outlines a few theories. One is that they were acquired by Alexander Leslie-Melville, Lord Balgonie, the heir to the property where the objects were found. He visited Egypt in 1856 and died back in Britain only a year later at just 24 years old. In total, 18 objects discovered on three separate occasions throughout three decades were found at Melville House.
It’s also unclear whether someone disposed of the objects due to grief after his early death or if they buried them out of superstition, as stories of ancient objects associated with bad luck date back to the mid-19th century. Maitland doesn’t rule out the idea, telling The Guardian “We can’t be sure whether superstition played any role in their abandonment, but it’s not impossible.”
Goring, for her part, believes the saga of the ancient discoveries to be the highlight of her career at NMS. “Every curator can tell you some extraordinary stories, but this is one of the most extraordinary that happened to me in my 26 years at the museum,” she said.
National Museums Scotland today boasts more than 6,000 objects from ancient Egypt and Sudan, so clearly superstitions about cursed finds aren’t a big concern.