The Neanderthal Museum

April 26, 2011


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Last Wednesday we had our long awaited visit to the Neanderthal Museum in Mettman, Germany, which takes you on a journey through the history and evolution of mankind, and is situated near the excavation site of the ‘Neanderthaler’. The museum is always a popular destination when visiting my folks who live in the area, even more so with our group’s visitor profile covering three generations and two nationalities, as almost all their interpretation panels are in English as well as German. We were doubly excited as we were visiting in time to catch their current special exhibition, “Mammuts: Giganten der Eiszeit” (Engl. “Mammoths – Giants of the Ice Age), and the boy was sporting his awesome mammoth jumper for the occasion!

We started our visit with the mammoths on the basement level (the interpretation here was actually all in German, but I was impressed by how far the husband’s German has come along as he got most of it from context, though on the downside my dad had trouble reading some of the smaller object labels). The exhibition covered all aspects of mammoths, from their appearance and environment, to how resourceful hunters were in using all parts of a mammoth for food, tools, weapons, jewellery, and their large bones and tusks even as building material – young visitors even had the chance to build their own mammoth huts in the children’s activity area (though the boy was still too young for that). As special exhibitions go, it wasn’t a particularly large exhibition, but it was undoubtedly special: standing next to a reconstructed, full size mammoth definitely has the ‘wow factor’ – and makes you feel really small! Furthermore, I got so excited about seeing a real live (well, dead, but you know what I mean), perfectly preserved mammoth in the form of mummified mammoth baby Lyuba, that I completely forgot to make any notes about where it was from or when it lived, so all I can tell you was that it was totally awesome seeing it up close. Seriously, if that doesn’t get you excited, you are made of stone! Also, I learned that mammoth droppings were the size of bowling balls^^

We then ventured upstairs to check out the permanent exhibition, which is spread out over a ramp that spirals up to the top of the building across four levels (and very handily ends in the café). An audio guide, which is included in your entrance fee, accompanies you around – all you need to do is plug your headphones into the relevant audio points as you go round, and it automatically recognises which language to play (we had both English and German ones). Since we’d all been to the museum before – the boy was the only one visiting for the first time – we didn’t go round systematically reading and listening to everything, instead dipping in and out of old favourites or focusing on things that were new since our last visit (it was also our first ever ‘proper’ museum visit with the boy, which was quite a learning curve^^).

The permanent exhibition is divided into seven sections: the first (“Ein Tal und sein Geheimnis” – Engl: “A Valley and its Secret”) introduces the history around the discovery and excavation of the Neanderthaler. The following section, “Eine Reise durch die Zeit” (Engl: “A Journey through Time”), gives an overview of significant moments in the history of mankind.  A quite memorable feature here is the huge hour glass to demonstrate the relative passing of time. The five remaining sections focus in more detail on different themes: “Leben und Ueberleben” (Engl: “Living and Surviving”), “Werkzeug und Wissen” (Engl: “Tools and Knowledge”), “Mythos und Religion” (Engl: ‘Myth and Religion”), “Umwelt und Ernährung” (Engl: “Environment and Nutrition”) and “Kommunikation und Gesellschaft” (Engl: “Communication and Society”).

As well as the historic artefacts on display, a few exhibits that stood out for me included:

  • a ‘bionic man’ display showing all the parts in a human that can be artificial
  • a series of displays showcasing the evolution of jaw and teeth in relation to diet
  • a display comparing family relationships between a modern day family and a stone age one
  • a ‘homo sapiens sapiens’ brain in a jar! (I don’t know why, but it just fascinates me)

There were also a number of reconstructed figures showing the Neandethaler in context, including one matching his strength with a modern man, and one watching TV which always makes me laugh. Another recurring feature that was really neat was a series of ‘Forscherboxen’ (Engl: ‘Explorer Boxes’), where you could discover more objects and stories behind doors and inside drawers. The kid in me never ceases to enjoy things like that. And then of course there were the old all time favourites, the creation stories from different cultures told at listening posts in the shape of giant ears! I have to admit the first time I visited these did freak me out a little, but they have since grown on me (no pun intended). Having the boy with us meant we didn’t get the chance to listen to all of them fully, but I did manage to dip into the Native American, Icelandic and Japanese ones.

There’s also the nearby excavation site that you can go see, which we didn’t have time for on this occasion, and a sculpture park which we had a quick walk round on the way back to the car (both the site and the park include listening posts that you can take your headphones with you to but don’t forget to drop them back off at the museum afterwards!) All in all it was a great visit as always. If you are ever remotely in the area, I can wholeheartedly recommend a visit. To see the whole museum with the full audio tour plus site and park you’ll want to leave yourself at least 3 or 4 hours. Oh, and although it’s not listed under the admission categories, if you show your ICOM membership card you get in for free.


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  1. Summer Sightseeing: ‘Human Traces’ Art Trail | Museum Diary - July 24, 2013

    […] of my favourite museums in Germany is the Neanderthal Museum in Mettman, and it’s also a perfect destination for a sunny summer day, as it comes with an […]

  2. {Scotland} Mammoths of the Ice Age | Museum Diary - March 28, 2014

    […] The exhibition continues with a look at growing up in the herd. The focal point here is baby Lyuba, the most complete and best preserved mammoth ever found, discovered in the permafrost of Siberia. The mummified mammoth is actually a replica, but that makes her no less impressive or less interesting. Her hair fell out, but the rest of her was fully preserved including her internal organs, so that scientist could even tell what she ate and drank. Visitors also learn about how teeth and bones tell the story of evolution and age. Further skin and hair samples, jaws and molars – some casts and replicas, some originals – from other mammoths complete the story (side note: I’d actually come across Lyuba before, at an exhibition on mammoths at the Neanderthal Museum). […]

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