The limestone statue has been at Montrose Museum since 1837, but little was known about its provenance or its subject until now. During the review, the object was identified by curators as being an exquisite example of Ptolemaic (c.332–30 BC) statuary depicting a non-royal individual. It has now gone on public display as part of Discovering Ancient Egypt, a touring exhibition from National Museums Scotland currently on at Montrose Museum. The exhibition brings together fascinating objects and hidden stories from the collections of National Museums Scotland and each of touring venues to reveal how ancient Egypt has captivated Scotland over the past 200 years, as it still does today. It was donated to the newly formed museum in 1837 by Montrose-born Dr James Burnes, a relative of the poet Robert Burns, who worked as the physician general for Bombay, now known as Mumbai. After being sent on sick leave suffering from malaria, he travelled home to Scotland via Egypt in 1834 and collected the statue during his visit.
It depicts a female temple musician called Meramuniotes, who lived between 332-30 BC. The back of the statue is inscribed with a long, hieroglyphic text which has been fully translated for the first time. It discusses her family, her role in the temple and her wishes for the afterlife. Her parents, siblings and descendants were all involved in the temple priesthood of ancient Thebes, and the inscription tells us she played the sistrum – a percussion instrument - in the temple of AmunRa. Her mother, Nehemesratawy, held this same role, and they may even have worked together. Statues commemorating other members of her family can be found in museums in Cairo, Turin and London. “This statue is one of the finest of its type in the UK. Not only it is beautifully carved but it shares an amazing connection with Montrose,” said Dr Daniel Potter, Assistant Curator, Revealing Cultures Project at National Museums Scotland. “Until recently, rather little was known about it. Now, by working with our colleagues at Montrose Museum to explore their collections,
we have been able to reveal some of the secrets of this remarkable object. Through this work, we have established how unique the statue is, and to put a name to the person it depicts and learn more about her and her relatives. It is a wonderful chance to connect with a family from over 2,000 years ago.” The Discovering Ancient Egypt touring exhibition examines Scotland’s contribution to Egyptology through the lives of three remarkable people whose work in the field helped to improve our understanding of ancient Egyptian culture; Alexander Henry Rhind (1833-1863), Annie Pirie Quibell (1862-1927) and Charles Piazzi Smyth (18191900). An archaeologist, artist and astronomer, their skill, dedication and enthusiasm ensured that they each made a significant contribution to the study of ancient Egypt. The statue of Meramuniotes can be seen in a new display case which allows visitors a 360° view of it. The display and the story of Dr James Burnes will form the centrepiece of Montrose Museum’s contribution to Discovering Ancient Egypt which runs until 7 September.