Museo de la Plata

Date: 1884
Owner: Patricia Lorente
Source Type: Images


The Museo de La Plata, founded in 1884, has acted as both as an internationally renowned paleontological research center and as a locus of Argentine scientific nationalism. It was designed to be architecturally grand, not only so as to be a visible spectacle of Argentina's progress but also because it had to be large enough to house the assembled skeletons of huge prehistoric animals. Indeed, the giant glyptodonts and megatheria displayed in the Museo de La Plata were themselves symbolic of Argentina's glorious past and present scientific abilities. Although this museum focused on ancient and extinct species, it was through-and-through an institution of progress and the prevailing ideas of positivism.

The museum was the brainchild of Francisco Moreno, a young man who dreamt of creating a natural history museum that would rival those of Paris and London. (The Museo Nacional de Buenos Aires had already existed for over fifty years, but many did not consider it worthy of Argentina's natural and national heritage). Upon the Museo de La Plata's completion, Moreno became its first director and the museum reflected his own positivism and that of the Generation of 1880. In large part, the museum was a monument to evolution, a belief widely shared among positivists, and it sought to display how Argentina had developed from long-extinct mammals, to "primitive" peoples, and ultimately to a modern western state. From the 1890s, the museum began taking on more of the functions of elite European institutions, including scientific education and publication of research journals.

In his quest for more fossils, Moreno hired Florentino Ameghino as the museum's vice director.  In 1887, the museum sponsored an expedition to Patagonia led by Florentino's brother, Carlos, in which he made the important discovery that the entire region of Patagonia had once been undersea and he collected many marine fossils for the museum. Florentino and Moreno, however, soon had a falling out, and by the end of the expedition, the newly discovered fossils had to find a different home.

Today, the Museo de La Plata is one of the world's foremost centers of paleontology, especially paleomammology focusing on the many strange mammals that once inhabited the Southern Cone. The museum has sponsored many expeditions to Patagonia and has made important recent finds in Argentina's western province of Jujuy.

Reference: Lopes, Maria Margaret and Irina Podgorny. "The Shaping of Latin American Museums of Natural History, 1850-1990." In Osiris, 2nd Series, Vol. 15, Nature and Empire: Science and the Colonial Enterprise (2000), pp. 108-118.

CITATION: Frente del Museo de La Plata. Foto tomada el 3 de noviembre de 2005. Patricia Lorente.