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Temporary exhibition at Musée de l’Homme dives into the tale of the prehistoric age to discover Neanderthals
Restoration of the skull of the child of Pech-de-l'Azé © Nicolas Krief.

PARIS.- For its new grand temporary exhibition, Musée de l’Homme dives into the tale of the prehistoric age to discover Neanderthals: a species that for a long time was considered to be primitive and bestial, is now recognized as full-fledged human beings.

Between contemplation, questioning, and amusement, Musée de l’Homme invites its visitors to discover Neanderthals…

Neanderthals are much more than a fossil category in the Homo genus. The discovery, in 1856, of a Neanderthal skull in the valley (Thal) of Neander (hence their name) in Germany, aroused the scientific world. This major discovery sparked numerous interpretations and fed the scientific imagination of the 19th century. However, Neanderthals were labeled as “an other” that had no ties to modern man.

Thus, as a continuation of the reflection on “otherness“ in the exhibition Nous et les autres -Des préjugés au racisme (Us and Them - From Prejudices to Racism), Neanderthal: The Exhibit has a similar mission: to deconstruct prejudices, to better understand our common human past, and to envision our future. Musée de l’Homme places a crucial focus on this Homo species that disappeared 35,000 years ago (after 350,000 years present on Earth), who is closer to us than we thought.

The exhibition combines the rigor of scientific discourse with contemporary museography:

• by renewing the approach to the constructed imagination around Neanderthals, in light of recent archaeological discoveries and analytical results permitted by new technologies.

• by reuniting, for the first time, the most remarkable, original Neanderthal fossils. These specimens have rarely been shown to the public, and have never been exhibited in France. The specimens come from the collections of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle (The National Museum of Natural History) and have been loaned by major French and European institutions. Notably, the Neanderthal skull has been exceptionally loaned to Musée de l’Homme for a three month period.

• by retracing the construction of the collective imagination, illustrated in artwork and literature, in which the misrepresentation of Neanderthals has been developed in given cultural contexts.

• by offering the public the keys to the results of a scientific investigation, to understand a fascinating episode of human history.

The Neanderthal «case» is not closed. This «brother» of ours has given us some genes and questions regarding the notion of the human species, and our perception of the difference.

The scenography presented by NC Agency (Nathalie Crinière), offers various experiences. From the emotion left when viewing original Neanderthal fossils, to the unexpected representations of our past and questioning their disappearance or their place on our family tree…

• Sketches of Neanderthals greet visitors at the entrance of the exhibit. As one continues through the entryway, the collection of sketched profiles become more defined, and undeniably human by the final silhouette of a Neanderthal woman, designed by artist Elisabeth Daynès.

• 260 objects are on display: 2/3 of the collection are archaeological specimen (original fossils, castings, lithic technology), 1/3 are art objects (paintings, sculptures, contemporary illustrations) and numerous documents (photos, posters, film clips).

• Multimedia devices (dioramas, projections and interactive activities) make the scientific content accessible to all audiences.


At the beginning of the exhibit, the visitor is brought into the mindset of an archeologist, immersed in the Neanderthal’s environment, amongst animals and hunter-gatherers. Musée de l’Homme recreated the site of “La Folie Poitiers“, where evidence of Neanderthals’ existence was left 60,000 years ago. From hunting techniques to alimentation, the daily life of a Neanderthal is shown through objects on display (stone tools), multimedia, paintings, and iconographic material, some of which testify the general misconceptions of the Neanderthal identity.

The Neanderthal man of La Chapelle-aux-Saints, the child of Pech-del’Azé, the woman of Saint-Césaire… Some of the most notable fossilized Neanderthal skulls are on display. Documents and photos exhibit the highlights of archaeological discoveries, on which scientific discourse has been constructed. When we consider their cranium, their objects of adornment, and their burial practices, we realize that the Neanderthal identity is far from the image we’ve created, of a caveman holding a wooden club. The evolution of Neanderthals’ appearance is then traced through a series of expressive busts that were made at the beginning of the 20th century.

Archeology, where genetics and scientific perspectives are brought together to address major questions: Neanderthals coexisted with Homo sapiens, but how did they meet? Was there conflict or interbreeding? Why did Neanderthals disappear? The long, historical narrative of Neanderthals has its enigmas; nevertheless there are constantly new things to discover. The exhibit ends with the presentation of current objects, comics, film clips and videos that testify to the Neanderthal’s presence that is among us today.

Neanderthals are at the heart of the research done at Musée de l’Homme and Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle. These institutions house experts in the field of paleoanthropology. Their collections include original fossils of Paleolithic Europeans, some of which are remnants of Neanderthals that were discovered in France.

The scientific commission is composed of a team of researchers with a mix of specialties:

• Marylène Patou-Mathis: Prehistorian and archaeozoologist - director of research at CNRS in the “Homme et Environnement“ department at the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle

• Pascal Depaepe, Prehistorian and paleolithic archaeologist - regional director at l’Institut National de Recherches en Archéologie Préventive (The National Institute for Research in Preventive Archeology: INRAP).

This duo is accompanied by two committees, bringing together researchers and specialists from all disciplines in the study of human fossils: paleoanthropologists, chronological dating specialists, archaeozoologists, geneticists, demographers…

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