Recently, I was on a road trip to the provinces of San Juan and La Rioja. The main point of the trip was to see Parque Ischigualasto, Parque Talampaya, and guanacos.
But, there was an opportunity to take in one of my favorite type of little museums: a personal collection that got wildly out of hand. This is the Museo Piedras del Mundo:
The enterprising proprietor of the museum has put together three rooms of displays, which he will lead you through (Spanish only). The main gallery boasts a hell of a rock collection.
Pains are taken to give information on the chemistry of various minerals, which are indeed from around the world. There are also sections dedicated to the local geology.
A second room houses local archaeological finds (the region is rich in fossils and ancient human-made relics, as well as impressive rocks)…
…and also some truly alarming local creepy crawlies.
The third room houses the seashell, fish specimen, and photography collection (all the photos were taken by the museum owner).
You will easily burn more time in the museum than you thought you would. And it’s a fun little place! It is maybe just past the middle of nowhere, if you’re coming from San Agustín, closer to a very, very small village called Usno. There’s literally nothing around the place. It is, if I recall correctly, $100 pesos for entry, and it’s open from 8am to 7pm daily. He’s also got a little gift shop.
I need to get this posted, because I was told that this museum will be closing next month, which sucks, because it’s pretty cool. It has a strong online presence, a good physical space, and a great staff. It will be a loss.
The MUMIN (MUseo de MINerales, get it?) is the educational endeavor of the SEGEMAR, the Servicio Geológico Minero (Argentine Mining Geological Service). It caters mainly to school groups, tasked with making rocks interesting to children. Geology, being perhaps not the sexiest of sciences, could make that a bit difficult to achieve, but they have done an admirable job. Things to touch, demonstrations to look at–there’s a lot of activity for minerals.
The museum is located within a government ministry building, the name of which escapes me at the moment–but you do need an ID to get in.
I poked around on my own until a staff member came out, discovered my terrible Spanish, and immediately went back to send out a very patient English-speaking geologist. He showed me around the museum, told me about all the displays, and answered all my questions. Let’s see a little of the collection! Argentina has a lot of mineral-related loot.
So, do you have a favorite kind of fossilized thing? ‘Cause I do.
“That’s cool,” you’re thinking. “BUT ARE THERE PRETTY ROCKS”
The museum does have an app available on the website that will do AR stuff with a few signs as well as a VR headset with a short meteorite thing to watch; nothing extravagant but fun and memorable. There are a few more hands-on elements to see/do, including some SUPER FUN SAND TABLES:
If you move the sand around, the volcano changes:
There’s another one!
In this table, you move the sand around to form the topography of the land. Then you can make it rain by spreading your hand. The idea is to demonstrate how water moves over the topography.
Know what else I liked? This Argentina-specific graphic of geologic time:
Wanna see more minerals?
I will never not find it fascinating that some minerals naturally grow in distinctive shapes.
Finally, I will close this out with a geode.
The label doesn’t tell you this but the very nice geologist will, this geode is an enhydro agate–a geode with water inside of it. Did you know that was a thing? I had no idea that was even a thing!
The MUMIN is free and open to the public Monday through Friday from 9am-5pm (closed on holidays). Take your ID though because you need that to get in. It’s very close to the Plaza de Mayo and easily accessible by all the subway lines that go there. Go while you can.
The Ethnographic Museum is under the auspices of the Facultad de Filosofía y Letras of the University of Buenos Aires. It was founded in 1904, and it while it houses collections from other places in the world, it’s focused chiefly on this part of South America. There is a lot of information available on the English-language website.
There are several exhibitions, and I’m not going to talk about all of them, because that would be a lot. The first one, The Uttermost Part of the Earth, addresses the native populations of Tierra del Fuego, and what happened to them. It’s not a happy story.
There were two groups that had lived in the area for thousands of years: sea hunters (Kaweshkar and Yamana) and land hunters (Selk’nam). That went fine for awhile.
The hall is set up with the items of the Native peoples on the left, and items that would be used by explorers and colonizers on the right. A model of a Yamada-style canoe is in the center. There is a guide at the beginning of the hall that translates all the text into English.
Let’s take a look at the Native artifacts first.
Meet Robert Fitzroy, captain of HMS Beagle, the ship that Charles Darwin sailed around South America on:
Now meet O’run-del’lico, a Native boy kidnapped by Fitzroy in retaliation for a stolen boat, who was renamed “Jemmy Button” because his family was given a button for him while he was taken back to England for a long time.
He and three other kidnapping victims, renamed York Minster, Fuegia Basket and Boat Memory, because no indignity was too small to inflict on them apparently, were supposed to be “civilized,” Christianized, and returned to Tierra del Fuego to serve as missionaries and intermediaries. Boat Memory died in England. The other three dropped Europeanism like a hot brick and reintegrated into their tribe immediately on their return.
“Hey,” I can hear you asking, “what other insanely racist things resulted in contact with Natives?” Hahaha.
The Selk’nam didn’t long survive sustained contact with non-Natives, which would come to include actual contract murder. The very last died in the 1970s. I’ll end this part with a song, included in the museum’s English guide and I believe from Anne Chapman’s book The End of a World, of the last shaman, Lola Kiepja (recordings available at that link):
The next exhibition is “Challenging the Silence: Indigenous People and the Dictatorship,” so the reading isn’t going to get any lighter here.
The last military dictatorship (supported by the US, I might add), as I’m sure you’re aware, is still very much in living memory here. Visitors are encouraged to leave a Post-It on the wall, which says, “How to challenge the silence?”
It will come as no surprise that Native rights and labor organizers ran afoul of the dictatorship.
The exhibition includes information on how the sugar mills (having been the beneficiaries of military muscle keeping workers in check and working for decades) would act as agents of the dictatorship, informing on workers and allow their land to be used for clandestine detention centers. One company’s own vehicles detained over 400 activists, 30 of which were never seen again.
The exhibit also examines the museum’s own contribution to the erasure of Native cultures during the dictatorship, which celebrated the “Centenary of the Conquest of the Desert” in 1979, which could more accurately be characterized as the centenary of the genocide of the Native peoples. So, sure, parade time.
Let’s take a gander at the artifacts that live upstairs, and channel our inner (or outer) textile nerds.
This exhibit covers a lot of ground and A LOT of time, there was an entire class of children occupying a large part of the room (and I never, ever begrudge children their space in learning institutions–I just didn’t get to the more recent artifacts because their activity was taking up a lot of floor space, but they were really engaged and two thumbs way up to the museum for having a hands-on activity for them), and my dinky little minor in anthropology did not equip me for being a great source on pre-Colombian history, so let’s hit this in broad strokes.
Here’s the region we’re looking at:
The exhibit covers about 4000 years of cultural development in the region (following roughly 6000 years of hunter-gatherer societies), beginning with the earliest domestication of crops and animals.
As things settled into the first millennium CE, society got less egalitarian and chiefdoms formed. Power became hereditary and ancestor worship was socially important.
Along with the integration of groups into a large political entity came more defined social stratification and a centralization of power and activity.
But nevermind the increasing sophistication of craftsmanship, particularly metalworking, and restricted luxury goods that signified social status, let’s get back to the textiles.
The loom comes into use, and surviving textiles show that weavers developed into specialized master craftspeople, just as the metalworkers and ceramics makers did.
Of course, everything goes to hell when the Europeans arrive, as it does. That was the area that the school children were working in, so I didn’t get photos over there.
The exhibition room is large, and there are a lot of stairs, but they’ve used the space well. Old houses present a lot of challenges when they’re used as public institutions, and they’ve done a nice job with this one. If steps are an issue for you, be aware that there are lots.
There’s more to see at the Ethnographic Museum, which is open Tuesday through Friday from 1pm to 7pm and 3pm to 7pm on weekends (closed Monday). There’s a small shop if you’d like to support the museum by upping your swag game. Admission is 40 pesos (about a US dollar currently), and it’s super easy to get to on subway lines D, A, and E and tons of buses.
Sooner or later, I’m going to get to some of the Big Museums of the city, but I must say, I really enjoy poking around the little gems. It doesn’t take long to go through them, but you can just feel the love, ya know? So today, here’s another wee treasure of culture and anthropology.
And therein you will find some rooms devoted to the native peoples of Argentina. The first room covers historical objects of and information on ancient cultures.
The exhibits then move into the contemporary culture and works of different peoples, which I am not going to try to get into too much because this has been a five-day weekend and my brain has melted. This includes the festival of Aréte Abáti, a harvest festival in the Chiriguano Chané community of Jujuy and Salta.
The masks are part of that festival, and, ever the fan of interactive museum exhibits, I was pleased to see a selection of masks available for handling.
Being a textile nerd, I also enjoyed the display and information on the weaving of the Wichí people (Jujuy and Formosa). A plant called chaguar is gathered (not cultivated) and its fibers are woven into a number of goods:
Representative crafts are also displayed from the Mbyá (Misiones region):
And the incredible silverwork and textiles of the Mapuche (southwestern Argentina):
There is also an exhibit on a culture that did not survive its contact with European settlement, the Selk’nam, who lived in the southernmost part of the country.
The upstairs portion of the museum currently houses a temporary exhibit (although it’s been in place since last year and has no closing date) called Objetos Poderosos:
This exhibit includes contemporary objects created for traditional celebrations and observances in Latin America:
And a small display of very neat works by Graciela Henríquez, including this kinetic piece of awesome:
And once again, a mask-themed interactive photo opportunity:
I borrowed this face for my photo.
And now, the deets:
LOCATION: 3 de Febrero 1378, Belgrano neighborhood
COST: It’s FREE, BABY
HOURS: Monday-Friday, 10-7
CLOSED DAY: Weekends and holidays
TIME: About an hour
LANGUAGES: All Spanish. The Microsoft translator app is best here.
TOURS: Yes, by arrangement, mostly in workshop form–it’s an education-focused institution. Not a casual tour kind of thing.
SWAG: Hey yeah there is! The entry hall has a couple of museum-branded bags as well as pieces of indigenous craft. There’s also a selection of (Spanish-language) books available.
HOW TO GET THERE: Close to the Olleros station of the D line of the subway.
KIDS: Sure! School visits are their jam, so they have tried to make the place kid-friendly.
FOOD IN THE AREA: Lots of cafes within a few blocks.