The Quietest Part- Denver Museum of Nature and Science, CO









After leaving the gems and minerals behind us for the day, we headed deeper into the museum, to find the North American Indian Cultures exhibit area. We had to leave before really getting a chance to explore everything to catch a show at the planetarium (Cosmic Journey: A Solar System adventure….and yes it was as fantastically nerdy as it sounds) but we came right back afterwards. I have a bit of a ….tempestuous, relationship with museums and their exhibits of Native American artifacts and the way they recount their history, but the Denver museum was- at least in my very humble and not overly scholarly opinion- really well researched, honest and above all, respectful. I would definetly recommend visiting for a chance to learn more about the cultures that span North America and getting a chance to see beautiful works of art (both ancient and modern).

Something of particular fascination to me were the signs you would see every so often behind the glass cases, just under a blank spot where an artifact use to sit. A small sign saying the object that used to be displayed there had been returned to their respective tribe or historical owner. I know the subject is something of intensely furious debate among certain groups, so I won’t go into it too much here, both because I don’t really come from a culture that has had it’s history taken to be displayed in museums without proper permission and also because I don’t have a Ph.D in…well anything really, but I will say it was something I though was interesting in many ways to see documented within the displays themselves. I ended up buying a really fascinating book on the subject in the gift shop (because of course I did) called Plundered Skulls and Stolen Spirits: Inside the Fight to Reclaim Native America’s Culture which was actually written by the senior curator of anthropology at the museum and I recommend as an interesting read on the subject.

We finished off at the small but super informative and fun Egyptian Mummies exhibit and then meandered our way down to the gift shop where as you can probably tell by now, I spent a stupid amount of money at. Books, postcards, souvenirs and even a new notebook, I would say don’t exit through the gift shop but… that would be so very hypocritical of me, no?

~m

3 comments

  1. You talk about artifacts being removed from the museum exhibits and returned to original owners… I read something really interesting in our local newspaper this weekend. Our museum in Edmonton is going through a gigantic move, pulling out of its historic site and into a gigantic new building downtown. One of the artifacts they have is a gigantic meteor that is of particular cultural importance to the indigenous people of our area. In designing the new building and the museum space, they have carved out a large area where all can come and see the meteor without paying admission to the museum, and where traditional ceremonies, like smudging ceremonies, can take place. I find it a fascinating compromise. If you’re interested, here’s a link to the article… http://edmontonjournal.com/entertainment/local-arts/paula-simons-heart-of-glass-new-royal-alberta-museum-aims-to-be-transparent-in-more-ways-than-one

    • FablesandCoffee · April 24

      Thank you for that interesting read!! I definitely agree that in this case the compromise reached was to the benefit of all and I’m actually really glad you shared that as an example of a different way to take this subject. In the cases of most of the items at the Denver museum I saw that had been given back, they were of more direct and personal value- headdress, clothing and the like. It’s such a difficult line to walk I think, educating and sharing with the greater public these amazing pieces of culture, while also acknowledging that perhaps not everyone holds a right to items taken without permission from cultures that are still very much alive and present. My opinion is mainly that the conversation at least, is always important to have.
      On a side note, I definitely think I need to make a note to visit this museum when it’s completed, it sounds like it’s going to be fantastic !

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