The Galerie de l’Homme is the heart of the Musée de l’Homme. It tells the story of the human odyssey through a visit circuit in 3 parts: who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we headed?
Who are we?
What is a human being? What sets us apart from other species? Our body? Our genome? Our imagination? Our empathy? How do we as humans see, study, measure and represent ourselves?
To answer these questions, the first part of the visit circuit explores the many facets of our identity based on various criteria that can be used to define a human being: A being of flesh and blood? A being of thought? A being of social ties? A being of speech?
You are going to discover who you are:
- To question your nature as a member of the Homo sapiens family and as a unique individual.
- To compare yourself with other species with which we share specific skills: for we are not the only species that uses two legs for walking, nor the only ones capable of sharing acquired knowledge with the rest of our species, nor the only ones able to communicate, etc. But we are the only ones to put the world into words and to have an awareness of time and death.
- To gain an understanding of the oneness of mankind and the diversity of the cultures, societies and individuals that make it up. From the same set of cognitive functions, human beings have come up with different world views and have invented various methods of social organisation, cosmogonies and languages.
The exhibition opens with an exploration of our body and finishes with a spectacular display “Plural beings”: a structure supporting a series of 19th-century busts that show how human diversity was viewed at a given moment in the history of sciences.
- 3 vast showcases mounted on the walls provide spectacular overviews. They bring together nearly a hundred objects on the following themes: “The body: between nature and culture” (what makes a human body); “The 1,001 ways to think about the world” and the relationships between us and other living things (plants, animals, spirits, etc.); “Me, we, the others: multiple overlapping identities” (gender, group, religion, etc.).
- 10 of our organs illustrate the morphological structure of the human body.
- 20 actual animal brains (lizard, elephant, langoustine, etc.) and one human brain, presented in jars in an interactive showcase, enable visitors to gain an understanding of the similarities and differences in their cognitive capacities through animations.
- 35 wax anatomical models, 79 plaster busts and 15 bronze busts illustrate human diversity and are evidence of the evolution in scientific and artistic representations linked to our understanding of Mankind since the 17th century.
- 1 resin tongue houses a unique audio exhibit where visitors can explore a variety of songs and music from around the world.
- 30 different languages (out of the 7,000 spoken by 7 billion humans) can be listened to as part of giant world map mounted on the wall.
Where do we come from?
Who were the first representatives of the human lineage? How many of them were there? How did they live? Why did some species die out? Did Neandertals and Homo sapiens ever meet? In what ways were our ancestors different from us? What was the Neolithic Revolution?
You are invited to travel a long way back in time...
- To get to know our distant ancestors and measure the impact of the first discoveries of human fossils in the 19th century which was closely linked to the emergence of new disciplines: prehistory and palaeoanthropology.
- To change your perspective and get rid of all your preconceptions regarding prehistoric humans or the earliest species of the human lineage to better appreciate their capacity for constant technological and cultural innovation and to discover what made even the earliest members of the Homo lineage “modern”.
- To follow the great migrations of humans who left our African birthplace for Eurasia and Western Europe.
- To understand mankind’s gradual shift, beginning 10,000 years ago, towards a production economy. Before then, humans were mainly hunters, gatherers and fishermen. Then some communities began to settle down and produce their food: a whole host of plant and animal species were domesticated, and tools adapted to these new needs started to appear and became more diversified.
The exhibition is spread over 3 levels, which gives structure to the subject matter: it begins with different human species presented on Level 1 and finishes with original specimens showcased in “The ancestor shelter”.
The mezzanine provides a more reflective experience, especially with the “Buried treasure” room where key pieces illustrate the symbolic and artistic achievements of the Cro-Magnons during the Upper Palaeolithic. You will find Homo sapiens on Level 2, during the Neolithic, when globalisation first began.
- 4 large white platforms provide the time frame for the visit circuit. Representatives of the human lineage stand upright on these platforms: cast models of their skulls are presented on metal stands and their figures, like shadows, are reproduced using three-dimensional topography on the ground.
- 1 reconstruction of a dig site (Barogali in Djibouti) dating from 1.6 to 1.3 million years ago, reveals the social behaviour of a small group of African Homo ergaster and demonstrates scientists’ fieldwork. The fragmentary remains found at this site for cutting up elephant meat and making tools do the talking.
- 2 rooms house original human fossils and examples of symbolic and artistic creations.
- 1 vast showcase (12 m long) reconstructs the European environment during the Palaeolithic and presents dozens of taxidermy animals including magnificent reindeer and horse specimens and the skull of a cave bear.
- 3 large themed showcases contain hundreds of objects that attest to the new ways in which humans began to relate to their environment beginning around 10,000 years ago: the process of domestication seen from technical and cultural perspectives, the transformation of minerals and clay, and the cultural and symbolic life the gradually developed around domesticated plants and animals.
- 1 alcove showcase prepares you to address our current world, using objects to illustrate the relationships within societies, the appearance of new temporal and spiritual powers, the transformation of dwellings, and conflicts and trade relationships between communities. Changes in human morphology, as well as the emergence of new diseases, are also presented, demonstrating how cultural developments are changing our bodies.
Where are we headed?
How did today’s globalised world develop? Will we all one day live in the same way? Is globalisation actually creating new differences? With a population of 7 billion people, how should we address the challenges of our planet’s limited resources? Are we still evolving?
The last section of the visit circuit encourages you to engage with the current state of the world
- To question the notion of progress.
- To measure human impact on the planet and its acceleration over the past 60 years. Humans have always modified their environment but never at this pace.
- To discover the aspects and effects of globalisation.
- To understand how, in an interconnected world with multiple centres of power, some aspects of cultural diversity are resisting and reinventing themselves.
- To anticipate the future and question how our bodies – the bodies of former “hunter-gatherers” – will react to these new environments, which they are not fully adapted to, and how they will continue to evolve.
- To question the ethical and societal issues that are determining the future of mankind, challenges in which each individual has a role to play.
More conceptual displays
To get the messages across, the final part of the visit circuit relies on films, investigative exhibits and objects that researchers have recently added to the cultural anthropology collection.
- 1 multi-screen exhibit outlines the four phases of globalisation: from the Neolithic to 1492 (worlds apart); from 1492 to 1850 (Europe unifies these worlds); from 1850 to 1950 (an industrialised, European world) and since 1950 (acceleration: a world with two main powers to multiple powers).
- 1 ger, part Mongolian, part French, illustrates how traditional dwellings are being modernised and reinvented.
- 1 “Cyclo” exhibit, 9 m in diameter, consisting of 3 components (a 360° circular screen, a “Lifestyles” showcase and an interactive exhibit), illustrates human impact on the planet using both aggregate data on resource depletion and concrete examples of different lifestyles.
- 1 table shaped like half a grain of hollow rice, presents the history of rice, how it spread around the world and the variety of ways different civilisations prepare it. Cooking methods, recipients and odours demonstrate the diversity in eating habits.