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The Museum of human, founded in 1938, reopened its doors at Place du Trocadéro in Paris five months ago, in October 2015, after six years of work. A visit to this temple of knowledge - and by that very fact, of tolerance - was essential.
An ideal museum for making children aware of diversity. And not only...
At nightfall, the exposed skull of Descartes (1596-1650) wakes up to whisper to that of Neanderthals: - "Cogito ergo sum ('I think therefore I am')! Cogito ergo sum! " ? What our very very distant cousin (-250.0000 to 28,000 BC), exasperated by the refrain, to respond to with bellicose onomatopoeias? Does the saber-toothed tiger come out of its window to rush towards the half-eaten elephant sculpture on the ground floor? What can the chachapoya mummy dating from the 9th century (discovered in the Peruvian Andes in 1877) and the inhabitant of Montreuil like a totem pole guard the entrance?
No more jokes but, as you enter this spacious 2,500m2 museum, rich in a thousand treasures so different from each other, it is tempting to think of the American film 'A night at the museum', during which each presentation comes to life. This somewhat incongruous thought reveals the playful and not at all precious aspect of the place, ideal for children and for adults usually impressed by the pomp of certain buildings. Toddlers will be able to shake the hand of an ersatz chimpanzee, that of a Neanderthal then that of a homo sapiens (all of us, human beings), just to compare. To feel the differences. To be stunned by the similarities. They will be able to go into ecstasies in front of windows bringing together life in all its forms, from the stuffed Borneo orangutan to this strange creature that is the platypus. Parents don't need to panic, there's no need to keep the smartphone or the Petit Robert in hand: educational sheets are highlighted to answer the thousand questions to come. In jars, the brain of a crow rubs shoulders with that of a human being. So far apart. So close. Magic of anatomy .... (do not miss the 17th century wax masks) Get on a colorful Dakar bus to see the landscape scroll by. Entering a Mongolian yurt. Pulling a tab on a giant map of the world to hear one of the 7,000 languages spoken by 7 billion humans across the planet resonate (puts it in perspective, doesn't it?) The experiments, based on evolution species like that of our human societies around the world, are not lacking here for the little ones: get ready for a talkative and joyful day.
The Musée de l'Homme: an institution that is both popular, scientific and committed
If the museum redesigned during the works does not overwhelm visitors, the building is nonetheless splendid. Housed in the Passy wing of the Palais de Chaillot, a stone's throw from the Eiffel Tower, it houses the magnificent Davioud glass roof, protected as a Historic Monument. The project for this museum was carried by Paul Rivet (1876-1958), anthropologist and politician. It was created in 1937 during the International Exhibition of Arts and Techniques, with the support of the Popular Front. Inaugurated among others by Minister Jean Zay in 1938 (who will soon be the victim of a virulent anti-Semitic campaign, imprisoned by the Vichy government and then assassinated by militiamen in 1944), the museum intends to present to the general public the latest scientific advances in the field of knowledge of the history of evolution. And this, in a context of rising xenophobia and fascism. Presenting the origins and the morphological and cultural diversity of man, it is then perceived as the most modern museum in the world. In order to define the philosophy which has guided this place since its opening, let us leave the word to its designer, Paul Rivet: "Humanity is an indivisible whole, not only in space, but also in time." The rest, wars and intolerances included, we could explain, is only mental construction and the particular interests of built societies.
Scientific facts, intelligently presented to question us
In the center of the ground floor, the large clothes rack. 19 meters long, 11 meters high, connecting level 1 to level 2. 91 busts made in plaster and bronze during the 19th century. are perched on this aluminum rail. They represent human diversity. Our rich species in all its visual aspects. At the foot of the rail, photos of the infamous 19th century European 'human zoos', in which our fellows, too exotic to the tastes of our ancestors sufficient, were exhibited like animals. A little nearby, the story of the different hominids, numerous, more numerous than one might think to have set foot on Earth (and all of them have probably not yet been discovered). The vast majority have come a long way and then disappeared. Neanderthals lasted longer. Homo Sapiens won and now reigns alone. From then on, he invented differences. These three elements put side by side: no need for big speeches. The effect is guaranteed ... What hatred, deaths, humiliations, social constructions and artificial and destructive barriers while ... This is undoubtedly the strength of this museum: it lets the visitor think, he does not 'imposes nothing. In short, Descartes really has his place there. And no doubt many, including some creationist politicians and religious on the return, should take a leap. Yes they should. It would save us a lot of bad winds.
Very successful, therefore, this reopening which has reconnected with the spirit of its creator. A learned and accessible museum, in which adults believe they are bringing their children to awaken them, but who themselves come out awake. Very complementary, moreover, to that of the Arts Premiers, quai Branly, more focused on societies across the world and over time. Finally, as the sky darkens with heavy clouds, we have all the data and educational tools at our fingertips to combat racism and stupidity. What are we waiting for? Because the lethal weapon remains well, always and again: Knowledge.
Museum of human. Palais de Chaillot, Trocadéro, Paris.
- Frédéric L'Helgoualch is the author of 'Deci-Delà (since nothing goes as planned)' to ed. from the Net.