Discover the new exhibition at the Canadian Museum of History!

Published on June 12 2019

This is the first time the Canadian Museum of History has presented an exhibition that reaches so far back in time. Thousands of years separate us from the Neanderthals. Who were they? We picture primitive brutes brandishing clubs—but this exhibition shows us we’ve got it all wrong!

THE NEANDERTHALS: A LIFE OF CONSTANT CHANGE

They coexisted with woolly rhinos and cave lions, now extinct. Did the Neanderthals die out, like the animals, because of climate change?

Over more than 300,000 years, Neanderthals experienced several climatic shifts, including four ice ages! Despite all these upheavals, they managed to adapt and evolve. We know they were nomadic, and contrary to popular belief, they weren’t cave dwellers: they lived in temporary open-air encampments, one of which, surprisingly, was built out of mammoth bones!

Campement built out of mammoth bones (tactile model)

DEBUNKING THE MYTHS

Poor Neanderthals. In the course of history, there has been a lot of misinformation about them. The famous club, for instance, we now believe was a myth: no archaeological dig has ever unearthed this kind of weapon. Far from being crude, boorish beasts, we now know that the Neanderthals were skilled craftspeople who made efficient tools for cutting meat and preparing skins. Within the exhibition’s many display cases, we see jewelry, ornaments, and a mysterious hand axe made of rock crystal. Was it carved for hunting, or just for fun? Did the Neanderthals like art? When you see these ancient artifacts, it’s hard to believe they didn’t.

biface made of rock crystal - between 45,000 and 300,000 years!

But stereotypes are remarkably persistent: nineteenth-century scientists took a rather dim view of our Neanderthal ancestors, and that attitude has endured to this day. The exhibition is designed mainly to expose these mistakes and challenge our perceptions of the world.

THE SCIENCE BEHIND THE EXHIBITION

The last part of the exhibition is devoted to the scientific advances that have given us a deeper understanding of who the Neanderthals really were. A single tooth can tell us so much! We know the Neanderthals rubbed shoulders with Homo sapiens, and the two species shared their respective cultures. Even more surprising, five other human species coexisted with the Neanderthals! Why did only Homo sapiens survive? The question remains. There are still a few mysteries to solve!

FOR THE KIDS

I often thought of my 9- and 11-year-old children during my visit. When they go (because yes, I want to see it again with them!), they’ll surely be impressed by the skulls and skeletons; but will they read the information panels? There are a few interactive installations scattered throughout the exhibition, but young visitors will likely be happiest participating in the various complementary activities: they can take quizzes hosted by volunteers, handle stone tools, and participate in archaeological digs at a Neanderthal day camp. In short, children definitely aren’t overlooked in this exhibition.

This exhibition brings together, for the first time, exceptional fossils rarely shown to the public outside Europe. Won’t you come and discover these fragments that have crossed the ocean just for you? You have until January 26, 2020 to visit Neanderthal!

Neanderthal

Where

Canadian Museum of History

When

Until January 26, 2020

Learn more
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