A sweeping view of our evolution. Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we headed? The Galerie de l’Homme is the essence of the museographical project; it was the largest and most awaited part of the project.
How can the story of the human journey be told in a way everyone understands?
Humans are an infinitely rich subject which led to the design of a visit circuit in three sections: Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we headed? Although, at first glance, everyone knows what it means to be a human being, can anyone really precisely define who we are? The visit circuit begins with an exploration of human nature from a variety of angles, combining approaches from life sciences and human sciences: the body, thought, language and life in society. How far back must we go to find the very first human being?
The second part of the visit circuit deals with the extremely long history of human evolution. The search for the origin of our species, Homo sapiens, is another way to understand who we are today and how we got here.
The last part of the visit circuit focuses on the world as we know it. It investigates the ecological impact of human activities, the sociocultural effects of globalisation, and our species’ scope for adaptation to environments that we have contributed to creating. It takes a stand, in line with the commitments of the Muséum national d’Histoire naturelle, to safeguard biodiversity and raise public awareness about the challenges involved in preserving the planet.
The design of the Galerie de l’Homme is the result of a multidisciplinary collective discussion, fuelled by the Museum’s scientists’ expertise and contributions from qualified outside personalities from the fields of human sciences and biology. Messages emerged from this discussion, supported by our current understanding of these fields: all of us belong to one human species, despite our differences; our African origins and our permanent link with an environment to which we have constantly adapted ourselves, while progressively modifying it after occupying nearly all of the planet’s ecological reaches. Outreach objects and tools that offer a wide range of approaches are used to get these messages across. The visit circuit is punctuated by recurring topics. The “History of science and ideas” topic illustrates and traces the evolution of knowledge while the “Advance of science” topic focus on the current state of research and new analytical techniques.
A variety of experiences accessible to all
Thinking, touching, listening, reading, smelling, playing, participating… all of the senses are engaged by the diversity of the display methods and outreach materials. The spaces and content of the Galerie de l’Homme are designed to be accessible to all visitors collectively, to meet a wide range of expectations and to cater to individual learning styles: new audiences, families, school groups, the curious, knowledgeable enthusiasts and people with disabilities.
The museum design: an ordered overview
Immersion in our evolutionary history
Zette Cazalas from Zen+dCo designed the Galerie de l’Homme as a flexible, immersive experience providing a range of options. The layout takes into account the specific features of the two large naves, their linearity, their sweeping curves, and the spectacular view they give of the Seine from one side. The visit circuit can be followed in any order, involving the visitors in the experience, guiding them with the markers along the wall on the Seine side, away from the light coming through the large bay windows towards the more intimate spaces inside where authentic, fragile objects are presented (alcove showcases, semi-enclosed areas), making them pause before the spectacular wall showcases and providing them with breaks at regular intervals to interact with objects, have fun with the game tables and have audio or tactile experiences.
A forward-looking gallery
The full potential of digital tools is unleashed so visitors can take part in the exhibits and choose how to learn. Each type of showcase is a custom-made prototype seamlessly incorporating technology: climate control adapted to the kinds of objects displayed, glass treatment that provides visitors with a better view and provides complete protection for the items and augmented showcases that provide additional information about an object at the touch of a fingertip.
Curiosity cabinets: reinvented
Spectacular due to their size (3 to 4 m high and 9 m long (the longest is 12 m) and 1.5 m deep) as well as due to the number of objects they contain (as many as a hundred), the wall showcases are designed, like paintings, to draw the visitors in with a wealth of information and aesthetic charm. For technical reasons (climate control), they are positioned along the blind wall. Their size makes it possible to create new viewpoints and to stage objects on several levels. Each object has a role to play within the showcase and tells its own story while remaining an integral part of a network of connections and comparisons to serve a purpose and the overall theme.
Innovative outreach materials
One or more exhibits providing experiences that are a little different are dotted around each section of the visit circuit:
- a 3.5-m tall highly realistic resin tongue, complete with salivary glands, which visitors enter to hear songs from around the world;
- a monumental structure made up of anthropological busts, arranged like a vast musical stave, towers 11 m high;
- the circle of 7 hotspots round like the world, which tells the story of the transition to the Neolithic using felt panels;
- the vast “Cyclo” screen, 9 m in diameter, a place to properly reflect on our impact on the environment;
- the garden of mutations shows the evolution of current-day humans.
These structures stand on their own but blend in with the visit circuit due to the choice of colours, materials and forms.
Sensory visit circuit
The museum considers accessibility to be added value so the exhibits on the sensory visit circuit have been designed to meet broad objectives. They are an integral part of the museum’s design and are aimed at French and foreign visitors alike, visitors with visual impairments, families, and visitors with reading difficulties. The sensory visit circuit includes a high-contrast relief floor plan and about twenty original resources located throughout the Gallery, consisting of objects you can touch, audio commentary and tactile tables.
The objects you can touch are works of art in their own right, both aesthetically and in the materials used to make them. Reproductions of objects from the collections (busts, fossil skulls), artefacts and sculptures help visitors grasp the key messages of each sub-section of the Galerie de l’Homme by touching and listening. Mounted on stands, they go hand in hand with manually activated audio exhibits and information written in both text and Braille.
A wealth of resources
1,800 objects come from the Musée de l’Homme’s historic collections or are items collected by researchers in the field. New acquisitions, items on deposit and artworks commissioned from contemporary artists are constantly being added. Conveying messages and emotions, the most remarkable specimens are showcased in cases that allow visitors to get a close look.
With 80 screens, 14 digital consoles and 60 different displays (including game tables, exhibits engaging the visitor’s body, interactive workshops to find out what it’s like to be a scientist, multi-screen audiovisual installations, audio exhibits and documentaries), all the museum’s resources are custom-designed providing original content derived from the work of the museum’s researchers.
To find out more, download the refurbishment press kit