Experiencing Ancient Human Diversity: Néandertal at the Musée de l'Homme, Paris

Mariana Françozo, Marie Soressi
2018 Curator: The Museum Journal  
The recently renovated Mus ee de l'Homme in Paris is currently hosting an exhibition on Neanderthals. Running from March 2018 to January 2019, N eandertal (in the singular form) presents original finds from excavations all over Europe alongside nineteenth and twentieth century artworks to discuss the rehabilitation of the image of the Neanderthal as a human species in its own right (Figure 1 ). In a nutshell, the message of the exhibition is "Neanderthals were people, too". This message is
more » ... delivered and the visitor leaves the show having learned about the many aspects of Neanderthals' craft, life, and destiny. Given the recent advances in human evolution studies, we wonder if it would have been possible to place more emphasis on past human diversity echoing in some ways the theme of the permanent exhibition of the Mus ee de l'Homme. The exhibition is located on the second floor of the building and spread over a gallery of 650 m2. It is organized in three thematic areas: le temps d'une journ ee, le temps d'une vie, and le temps d'une esp ece. In all areas, the same visual color code organizes the narrative and the objects on show into three interconnected sections. Blue-wall areas contain archaeological evidence and narrate the ways of life of the Neanderthals as well as their era. White-wall sections display and discuss the representation of the Neanderthals in the media. Finally, orange stations house interactive games and activities for children ( Figure 2) . Additionally, small orange signs positioned at child's length throughout the blue walls make simple yet strong statements summarizing the message of that particular exhibit unit. The first area, titled le temps d'une journ ee -"within the span of a day"focuses on a day in the life of a Neanderthal. A full-size diorama showing animals that coexisted with Neanderthalsamong others, a mammoth and a cave lionwelcomes the visitor to the show. Immediately thereafter, a reproduction of the La Follie archaeological site in Poitiers, France, intends to show the visitor how Neanderthals lived in and made use of the environment around them. While this specific site reproduction leaves the visitor a bit confused as to where exactly the shelter was, a visiting scientist in turn searches for a presentation of the rare and tenuous evidence supporting the idea of a shelter. In this same area, the spread of flint chips on the floor as well as the refitted flakes game easily enable the visitorincluding childrento start understanding flintknapping in an interactive manner that is not often used in museums with this type of materials. The second areacalled "within the span of a lifetime"presents the cultural Dr. Mariana Franc ßozo (m.francozo@arch.leidenuniv.nl) is Associate Professor of Museum Studies at
doi:10.1111/cura.12274 fatcat:np6r5u5qwzg7pbykx4rz3d7pvu