Museum Heaven

I thought I’d died and gone to heaven earlier this summer, when visiting Burgos in northern Spain. Their excellent new (well, since I was last there) Museo de la Evolución Humana was enticing full of interest and well presented, using multiple overlaying interpretation techniques that did not, as in so many other new museums, fight with each other in terms of logic or progression. And all in very good English as well as Spanish. There is a good amount and type of digital and multimedia interpretation, steering clear of the gimmicky.

Navigation around the museum was very clearly indicated (if a little odd – you first go to the basement and then work your way up) and takes you from the earliest traces of pre-history from the nearby Atapuerca archeological sites, all the way up to the future of the human race – possibly in peril due to our disregard for the rest of the natural world – the science of the brain and artificial intelligence. Via a discussion of what the actual significance of Charles Darwin’s work was, and how natural selection works, theoretically and genetically.

Why else did it thrill me? Very few children – this is unashamedly a museum of complex ideas and learning, presented in engaging ways but with lots of lovely reading to do. It was spacious and not at all crowded. It had air conditioning. You paid to get in – but only about £6. Photography was encouraged, except in parts of the lower floor out of respect for the human (and pre-human) remains exhibited there.

Best of all, on arriving at the lower level to start our visit, the first words from the member of staff there were “Hello, my name is ….” I loved that!

What could they improve? There was little concept of a cafe or restaurant – merely a coffee vending machine. And since the museum is so dense and fascinating, one really does need to take breaks and charge the batteries. OK, they are happy for you to go back into town for refreshment and return on the same ticket on the same day, but what a waste of an income opportunity, not to mention the risk that people won’t actually return. And for me, the contrast between the sweltering temperatures outside and the enthusiastic air conditioning inside was a little too severe, and left me with the sniffles.

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