The Museum of Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain. A spectacular space about the evolutionary discoveries from the Sierra de Atapuerca.
In the heart of the city of Burgos, five minutes from the bus station and a few steps from the River Arlanzón, we'll find a modern building with a cubist silhouette. This large white edifice with large windows offers the visitor a very luminous interior. But it's not only the visible light that our eyes perceive filling this building, there is also the light of knowledge shining from within. This is the light that guides humankind through the darkness of our journey, acting as a guide since our first hominid ancestor began to ask the question "Why?"
This building I'm talking about is the Museum of Human Evolution (or MEH in Spanish). This building is the work of architect Juan Navarro Baldeweg, the father of the new Los Teatros del Canal complex in Madrid, the Museum at Altamira and the Upsala convention and concert center in Sweden. When we arrive at the building, we go up a ramp that leads us to a garden area that reproduces very accurately the geography of the Sierra of Atapuerca, which places us within the context of what we will find in the interior. Incredibly, after its first year of activity (it opened in July 2010) over 300,000 visitors had come to see the museum.
The Sierra de Atapuerca
This early success was came from the presence of the two co-directors of the Patronato de Atapuerca (Atapuerca Foundation), the archaeologist Juan Luis Arsuaga, José María Bermudez de Castro and Eudald Carbonell. Along with the collaboration of the Junta of Castille and León, they decided to create this spectacular space to spread the knowledge of the evolutionary discoveries from the Sierra de Atapuerca that have revolutionized the field of archaeology and have helped us to understand better our human origins.
As we progress towards the interior of this building, full of straight lines and right angles, we discover that the building is split into four levels:
Here we find a single space where we can observe a recreation of the Sima de Huesos (Pit of Bones) and the archaeology site form the Gran Dolina as well as the Sima del Elefante. These area all sites found in the Sierra de Atapuerca located approximately 10 miles (16 km) away from the Museum.
This area is dedicated to Charles Darwin and his theory of Evolution. To help us understand the precariousness of the Darwin's situation when he was doing his research during his voyage to the Galápagos Islands, there is a life size reproduction of his ship the HMS Beagle on which Darwin spent 5 years travelling around the world. Here, you will be able to observe how little space there was on the ship and appreciate just how uncomfortable it must have been to be on this boat—making us value even more Darwin's work. You will also be surprised by the 10 life-size reproductions of human ancestors and our progression through time from "Lucy" (Australopithecus afarensis) to Homo rhodesiensis. In between, we will see Homo antecesor, which corresponds to the remains found in Atapuerca.
On this level we will also find a room dedicated to the brain. Here we will find on display a large brain, reproduced with great detail, where we can better understand its structure and workings.
This floor is dedicated to "evolution within a cultural framework" where we will see the achievements of primitive humans: the creation and production of tools (here we can see the biface "Excalibur" found in Atapuerca), the making fire (to help us understand this, there is a spectacular 360º movie projection), the appearance of the first symbols, art and music. Also on this floor there are original fossils on display, including one of the original bones to come out of Atapuerca, a pelvis known as (but of course) Elvis. Also on display here is an exhibito of how life would have been like for the last hunters of the Pleistocene Epoch and the shepherds of the Neolithic Period—whose work selecting plants and animals marked the beginnings of agriculture and breeding of livestock.
Here we can see three ecosystems that were key in the development of human evolution: the tropical jungle and the unfolding of the first hominids, the savannah where the genus homo first appeared and the boreal forests-tundra that reflects the harshness of the las glacial period.
On the top floor we can sit down and have something to eat or drink or browse a book about everything we've seen in the bookstore/cafeteria.
One of the most interesting things a visitor can do at the MEH is take a shuttle bus to the the Ibeas de Juarros, Approximately 10 miles from Burgos, where the Atapuerca Foundation is located. From here we can take a guided tour of the Trinchera del Ferrocarril (Train Trench) archaeological site where visitors can observe firsthand the work in being done within the Atapuerca archaeological site. Here, we can see them working tenaciously like curious ants all in the name of helping us knowing our very own history better.