The Museum of Man is located in Balboa Park, San Diego, California and, if you don’t know it for what treasures lie inside of it, you might have seen the gorgeous building from the outside! It is part of the California Quadrangle, which was built between 1915-16 for the Panama-California Exposition. Since then the iconic museum has been home to various anthropology exhibitions.
If you are visiting San Diego, the Museum of Man should be a must-see on your list! It is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm and you can have access to everything it has to offer for $13, and, if you’re bringing kids under 5, they go in for free! Here are 10 of the most iconic exhibits you can’t miss!
The Museum of Man has the vastest collection of ancient Egyptian artifacts in the United States, most of which focus on the process of funerals and the afterlife; as it has been thought of by the Ancient Egyptians. The story shown by the exhibition is the end of life: you can discover painted mummy coffins and masks, many artifacts from the ancient city of Amarna where King Tut spent his early years.
You can find figurines, mummified falcons, amulets and various treasures the ancient pharaohs were believed to take with them to their life beyond death. The large collection used to feature two mummified human bodies as well, but these are no longer displayed due to a policy change at the museum. They believe that it is disrespectful to the dead to be on display, and the numerous objects and educational material are enough to showcase the past traditions of the Egyptians.
Adventure Kids in Egypt
Continuing the theme of Ancient Egypt, the Adventure Kids exhibition is focused on children and sensory learning! If you have children to entertain, this is the place for you! The kids get to step in the shoes of real archeologists and learn techniques with which they discovered the amazing treasures of the past. You also get to dress up in ancient Egyptian costumes and wear archeologists’ hats, use brushes to uncover incredible objects covered by the sands of the Sahara and even learn the step-by-step process of mummifying a body. The museum promises fun for you and your entire family, kids and adults alike!
Cannibals – Myth and Reality
Although it is often used in popular culture, the idea of cannibalism is still taboo today. How could it not be? Still, there are plenty of references to it and even more depictions of cannibals in popular culture. So, if you’re curious about why man would ever resort to eating another human being, this is the place to discover!
The exhibition takes you through historical and pop culture representations of cannibalism with an interactive twist. Recommended for ages 10 and up, the exhibit gives you questions such as what would you do if you were stranded on a deserted island with your friends. You can see first-hand, real experiences of people who had to resort to the unthinkable – such as the Uruguayan rugby players who got stuck in the Andes Mountains and had to make terrible choices to survive and you will even see the “apothecary’ where you can look at what medicine was made from human remains in the past.
What place does beer have in an anthropology museum? Well, most ancient cultures had some form of beer. Ancient Egyptians, Sumerians, Chinese, and even more cultures were brewing this drink and linking it to religious activity. In this exhibit, you can view 10,000 years of beer brewing history. Here, you can learn about how Ancient Chinese brewers made the first beers and compare their method to current techniques.
Additionally, you can even see a solid gold beer cup that belonged to an Incan king somewhere between 1250 and 1533 A.D. Sometimes the museum organizes beer tastings as well, so be on the lookout for their next announced date!
Race: Are We So Different?
The question posed by this exhibit is simple: is there any scientific reason behind our differences? What even is “race”? The subject is explored by the exhibit by looking at race and racism closely, examining any reasoning behind it. The answer is clear. Genetically, we are not different and all the bases of racism come from myth, folklore, and assumptions that are not supported by science.
If you are interested in the subject, this exhibit is a great deep dive into the historical background of racism. It also encourages you to talk about it with your friends or family, or even other museum-goers. The exhibit is recommended for school children on field trips. But younger and older people will get a lot of useful information too!
The museum also offers pre-visit and post-visit materials for you to explore if you’re planning to check out this thought-provoking exhibit. You can find all of their material on their website!
Maya: Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth
If you’re wondering what you should check out in San Diego, California, the Maya exhibit should be on top of your list, even if you don’t have time for the entire Museum of Man. This exhibit is one of the only places where you can see a considerable amount of Mayan culture. These include items like bowls, trinkets, ceramics and much more can be viewed. However, you will also see giant monuments on display.
These monuments are casts of the originals because those eroded quite a lot over the years. Today, even historians use the casts to study the ancient Maya hieroglyphics. Also, if you decide to visit this exhibit, you will learn about the Maya lifestyle, their rulers’ names, their day-to-day chores and even about the Maya heritage. There are about one million people today who still live by the Mayan culture and carry their genes!
Monsters! In The Museum Of Man
If you’re visiting with children, the Monsters! Exhibit is a must-see! The museum promises fun for the whole family as you learn about the history of mythical creatures. You can view folk art about over 50 monsters around the world, from the most famous to the most obscure.
The exhibit is also interactive. It includes a book nook where you can read stories about monsters, a magnetic monster wall where you and your kids can create your own monsters, and you can even explore the monsters’ homes, such as lakes, seas, caves and even under your bed! You’ll even see the evolution of monsters like the unicorn; a vicious creature to little girls’ favorite over the years.
Kumeyaay: Native Californians/Iipai-Tipai
The San Diego Museum of Man recognizes that the museum, Balboa Park and even the city of San Diego occupy the ancestral territory of the Kumeyaay; a native Californian people whose lives were threatened by colonizers, nearly pushing them to extinction. Today, the Kumeyaay reside in 13 bands across Southern California. Here, they try to keep their traditions and lifestyle, despite the changes they had to endure over hundreds of years. The San Diego Museum of Man dedicates an exhibit to the amazing cultural heritage of the Native American people. Also, if you are interested in the history of America before it was occupied by colonizers, this is a great start!
PostSecret In The Museum Of Man
If you are looking for a remarkable experience at the Museum of Man, you should definitely visit the PostSecret exhibit. Anthropology is all about the study of human behavior. Keeping secrets is one of the building blocks of intimacy between human beings. PostSecret incorporates millions of postcards handwritten and/or drawn by people all over the world. These are people who felt like they could share an intimate part of their life with Frank Warren; the founder of this community art project.
Additionally, the installation lets you explore the secrets of many anonymous people who took part in this project, and you can also write a postcard to submit to the exhibit! The aim of this community art project is to feel alone, together. You get to experience the most vulnerable thoughts of anonymous people and empathize with them, without ever knowing their identity.
Living with Animals
One important part of human evolution is the domestication of animals, not just for food, but for companionship as well. The first humans started sharing their meals with wolves 15,000 years ago. Since then all people all around the world have kept pets and livestock! This exhibit takes you through an amazing journey over the tens of thousands of years since when animals and humans have been coexisting.
Here, you can take a look at the lifestyle of cavemen with their first dogs, and follow through to our modern living rooms! Also, here you will experience the lives of pigeons, roaches, and rats while learning about how human beings created pests. You can even experience five virtual meals from various countries over the past 100 years, to signify how animals get on our plates.
Also, the kid-friendly exhibit is separated into three main themes; “animals as pets”, “animals on our plates” and “living with pests”. You can also find some interactive games which help you learn more about all kinds of different animals all over the world.
If you are thinking about what San Diego museums are worth a visit, the Museum of Man definitely deserves to be on your list. Not only is it located in the beautiful historic Balboa Park, but the building itself is absolutely stunning. Museumgoers can visit the California Tower, which is connected to the museum itself. So for an additional fee, you can take a look at the amazing exhibits and see the view of San Diego from a special historic monument, high up in the California Tower!