Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Other people’s old stuff

Regional Museum of Archaeology Alcala de Henares

If you grow up in a place like Copán Ruinas, there’s no way around archaeology and Maya culture. It’s Maya here, Maya there and Maya everywhere. Few people from Copán actually visit the Archaeological Park, much less the museums or Centre of Investigation where artefacts are examined and stored. Dilcia and Normita happen to know a bit about archaeology and Maya culture, because they have participated in various projects focussed on these subjects. But people in Copán tend to forget sometimes that there’s more than Maya culture in the world.

Dilcia and Normita were excited to visit the Regional Museum of Archaeology in Alcalá de Henares, thinking that they might finally find something familiar. They were wrong! The exhibition started with an audiovisual show about the evolution of life on earth (already quite different from the more familiar creation theory as they know it), confirmed by the display of huge bones of different animals.
From the mammoths and prehistoric birds we moved on to Neanderthals and Homo sapiens, the Visigoths, Romans, Arabs and Christians, from the Middles Ages to Modern Times. An overwhelming amount of information and imagery, especially for those not so familiar with European history, followed by a visit to the lab where pieces are studied, cleaned and restored. The lab wasn’t big, but had a lot more fancy equipment than the CRIA in Copán.

Next stop: La Casa de Hippolytus, the foundation of a roman building from around 300 AEC. Despite its name, it isn’t a home, much less owned by Hippolytus, but named this way in the early stages of the excavation when it was thought to be a home and the name Hippolytus appeared on a mosaic floor. It turns out that the site used to be an educational and recreational centre for young affluent men and it included two pools (one hot, one cold) and, most impressive according to the kids, a communal bathroom.

By now we have visited so many different places, each and every one unique, impressive and ooooold...The University of Alcalá de Henares, the Prado Museum, the royal palace in Aranjuez, the historic centre of Baeza, the Alhambra in Granada and the Mosque of Córdoba. I seriously doubt the girls remember more than the very basic of each monument, but that isn’t the most important. What matters is that they realize that they small world isn’t the only one, that their history is part of something much bigger. And that they feel that their patrimony is theirs, to enjoy and to protect.

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