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La moda de los canastos de armadillo

Por Susana V. García, CONICET-Museo de La Plata

Entre las colecciones zoológicas del Museo de Ciencias Naturales de Barcelona se encuentra una canasta de armadillo, inventariada con el número MZB 99-1252. Fue donada en 1999, junto con otros especímenes zoológicos, y había sido comprada una década antes en un mercadillo de la ciudad. Este tipo de objeto, más frecuente en museos de curiosidades o de etnografía, fue aceptado en donación como un reservorio de datos genéticos. La canasta esta confeccionada con la coraza, la cabeza y la cola de un animal propio de Sudamérica: el llamado “peludo” en las pampas argentinas o “quirquincho grande” en las regiones andinas (Chaetophractus villosus). Este animal, se encuentra en Argentina, el “Gran Chaco” de Paraguay y Bolivia, y sur de Chile, y es una de las 22 especies que forman el orden de mamíferos conocidos como armadillos o tatúes (Cingulata) (Gallo, Superina y Abba, 2022). Los ejemplares disecados de armadillos o sus corazas y colas secas, fáciles de conservar y transportar, tienen una larga historia en los gabinetes y museos europeos desde principios del siglo XVI (Egmond y Mason, 1994, Podgorny, 2012). Recordemos, por ejemplo, que sesenta años después del arribo de Colón a América, se podían encontrar ejemplares en el mercado de Constantinopla según observó el naturalista francés Pierre Belon (Belon, 1588). La historia de estos ejemplares en diversas colecciones privadas – y luego museos estatales – remite, en gran medida, a las redes comerciales, las prácticas coleccionistas y las modas por nuevos objetos curiosos y coleccionables. Las “canastas de armadillo” ilustran estas interacciones.

Hacia el 1900 se generó una nueva industria alrededor de los armadillos: la confección de canastos que se vendieron como “curiosidades” y circularon alrededor del mundo. El negocio fue comenzado por inmigrantes europeos familiarizados en la preparación de cestos o pieles, buscando aplicar sus saberes a las materias primas que encontraban en América y tal vez inspirados en artefactos indígenas. En Texas se desarrolló una floreciente industria alrededor del armadillo de nueve bandas (Dasypus novemcinctus), un animal relativamente nuevo para la fauna texana, ya que comenzó a llegar al territorio norteamericano en la segunda mitad del siglo XIX ligado a la acción humana. La empresa más conocida fue la iniciada hacia 1898 por el migrante alemán, Charles Apelt, una década después de radicarse en Comfort, Texas (Smith y Doughty, 1984). Aplicando su experiencia en la manufactura de cestos, Apelt abrió una fábrica de canastas de armadillo en 1898, vendiendo más de 40.000 cestas en sus primeros 6 años en Estados Unidos y otras partes del mundo. Campesinos e indígenas de la frontera con México proveyeron miles de ejemplares para la fabricación de canastos y también para vender como mascotas (Newman, 1913). Tiempo después, la empresa pudo mantener y reproducir estos animales en cautiverio y formar una granja de armadillo. El negocio se extendió a la producción de lámparas y otros objetos decorativos con estos animales, así como a la provisión de ejemplares vivos para jardines zoológicos y laboratorios científicos (Smith y Doughty, 1984). La Apelt Armadillo Company and Farm, continuada por miembros de la familia estuvo activa por siete décadas. El negocio declinó a inicios de la década de 1970, aunque los cestos de armadillo siguieron circulando en las casas de objetos de arte, anticuarios y mercadillos.

Propaganda de la compañía Apelt Armadillo

El cesto conservado en el Museo de Ciencias Naturales de Barcelona, fabricado con una especie particular de Sudamérica que no se encuentra naturalmente en México ni Texas, nos muestra que este tipo de emprendimientos estuvo presente en otras partes del continente americano. En Buenos Aires, por ejemplo, un taxidermista italiano que arribó a la Argentina en 1894, se presentaba unos años después como “inventor y fabricante de canastos de armadillo”. Su negocio, al igual que el de otros taxidermistas de la época, abarcaba la preparación de las pieles de otros animales para distintos fines: alfombras, peletería, adornos y ejemplares embalsamados para las colecciones de estancieros, coleccionistas, colegios y museos. En esa época, la carne de armadillo, al igual que en otras partes de América, era un plato muy popular lo que era muy fácil conseguir cientos de ejemplares en el mercado de Buenos Aires (García, 2008). Hacia 1910, los canastos de armadillo junto con fotografías, pieles de jaguar y mates de calabaza, eran los pocos souvenirs locales que podían adquirir los turistas como recuerdo de la visita a la capital argentina, tal como relató el naturalista norteamericano William Jacob Holland, director del Museo Carnegie de Pittsburgh. Holland visitó la Argentina en 1912 para armar el calco del Diplodocus carneggi en el Museo de La Plata y se volvió con varios de esos canastos, después de varios días de buscar recuerdos locales:

“Pasé cierto tiempo tratando de reunir souvenirs. Al igual que en Bahía, en Buenos Aires eso me resultó difícil. Aunque en las tiendas se exhibía una gran cantidad de hermosos objetos de plata, bronce, cristalería, porcelana y artículos de lujo, que eran a la vez útiles y atractivos a la vista, todos ellos eran cosas hechas en Europa o Norteamérica, y podían comprarse mucho más baratos en Pittsburgh, o incluso en Nueva York. Un amigo que estaba empeñado en la misma tarea, me informó que todo lo que había logrado encontrar, que en cualquier sentido podría considerarse como característico del país, y por lo tanto adecuado para ser recuerdos de un viaje, eran fotografías, mates de calabazas, cestas de armadillo y pieles de jaguar. Había descubierto un lugar donde se vendían estas cosas y me guió hasta el lugar. Los pobres armadillos […] se venden en los mercados como alimento. […] El uso más curioso que se le da a estas pobres criaturas es convertir sus corazas en cestas. La boca es abierta y el extremo de la cola se introduce en ella, formando así el asa de la cesta, mientras que el caparazón hueco sirve de receptáculo. El caparazón está forrado de seda. Compré varios como recuerdo.”(Holland,1913).

Cesta de armadillo que se vendía en Buenos Aires en 1912 (Holland, 1913)

El comercio de canastos de armadillo continuó muy activo en la década de 1920, constituyendo parte de la industria “nacional” o regional de souvenirs de varios países americanos. Por esa época, cientos de armadillos eran capturados y preparados por indígenas del Chaco y los canastos se vendían en casas de taxidermia y de objetos de arte de Buenos Aires. También se producían en el Estado de São Paulo (Brasil), mientras abundaban en mercadillos de Berlín.  Queda para futuras investigaciones determinar hasta qué punto la moda por estos objetos promocionados en las exposiciones internacionales y catálogos, cuya fabricación a gran escala fue emprendida por inmigrantes europeos en América, fomentó una nueva artesanía entre las comunidades indígenas, vendida como recuerdo a los turistas o como objetos etnográficos para los museos de la segunda parte del siglo XX. Actualmente estos canastos se pueden adquirir en internet como objetos vintage o curiosidades con un valor que puede llegar a ser cien veces más alto que en la década de 1920, cuando se ofrecían como regalos para navidad o souvenirs para viajeros.  Los canastos de armadillos constituyen un ejemplo más de las distintas capas de historias entrecruzadas, emprendimientos comerciales, circulación y modas que esconden las piezas de muchos museos.

Agradecimientos

Agradezco a Eulalia García Franquesa, Jefa de colecciones, y a Javier Quesada, Conservador de Vertebrados, del Museo Ciencias Naturales de Barcelona por la consulta y datos de cesta de armadillo. También a Agustín M. Abba, especialista en armadillos e investigador del CONICET (Argentina) por la determinación y la información sobre esta especie.

Referencias bibliográficas

BELON, Pierre, Les observations de plusieurs singularitez & choses memorables, trouuées en Grece, Asie, Iudée, Egypte, Arabie, & autres pays estranges, redigées en trois liures, Par Pierre Belon du Mans. Reueuz de nouueau & augmentez de figures. Paris : Guillaume Cauellat, 1588.

FLORIKE, Egmond  y MASON, Peter, “Armadillos in Unlikely Places. Some Unpublished Sixteenth-Century Sources for New World “Rezeptionsgeschichte” in Northern Europe”, Ibero-amerikanisches Archiv, vol. 20, n° 1/2 ,1994, pp. 3-52.

GALLO, Jorge A., SUPERINA, Mariella y ABBA, Agustín M., Chaetophractus villosus (Xenarthra, Chlamyphoridae), Mammalian Species, vol. 54, n° 1014, 2022, pp:186–201.

GARCÍA, Susana V. “Especies locales, mercado y transporte en las investigaciones embriológicas: el estudio de la poliembrionía en armadillos a principios del siglo XX”,  História, Ciências, Saúde – Manguinhos, vol.15, n° 3, 2008, pp.697-717.

HOLLAND, W. To the River Plate and back: the narrative of a scientific mission to South America, with observations upon things seen and suggested, New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1913.

NEWMAN, Horatio H. “The natural history of the nine-banded armadillo de Tejas”, American Naturalist, vol.47, n° 561, 1913, pp.513- 546.

PODGORNY, Irina. “Los conejos de calabaza”, en: El mundo atlántico y la modernidad americana, México: RGM. 2012, p. 222 – 237.

naturalis.fcnym.unlp.edu.ar/repositorio/_documentos/sipcyt/bfa004253.pdf

SMITH, Larry L. y DOUGHTY, Robin W., The Amazing Armadillo: Geography of a Folk Critter, University of Texas Press, 1984.

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Alejandro Martinez présente ses travaux à Angers

Bacilles, sauterelles et controverses scientifiques. Félix d’Hérelle (1873-1949) et les premiers essais de contrôle biologique des insectes nuisibles en Argentine.

Le 14 mars 2022 à 16h30 à la Maison de la recherche Germaine Tillion (5bis bd. Lavoisier Angers)

 De la fin du XIXe siècle jusqu’au milieu du XXe siècle, les infestations de sauterelles ont été l’un des problèmes les plus graves à résoudre pour les agriculteurs argentins. Différentes méthodes ont été utilisées pour les arrêter : barrières de métal ou de tissu, différents types de pièges, leurs œufs ont été détruits, des lance-flammes et toutes sortes d’engins ont été utilisés, qui se sont souvent avérés inutiles. Les moyens chimiques, tels que l’arsenic, ont également eu leur tour, bien qu’en raison de leur toxicité pour les humains et le bétail, ils n’aient pas été largement utilisés. Dans l’historiographie de la lutte antiacridienne, le récit de ces moyens “mécaniques” et chimiques plus populaires et plus connus a jeté une ombre sur l’histoire des moyens biologiques et leur rôle dans la gestion d’insectes économiquement importants.

En Argentine en particulier, la lutte biologique contre les insectes nuisibles a démarré relativement tôt, entre la fin du XIXe siècle et le début du XXe siècle. L’un de ses principaux promoteurs de l’époque, l’entomologiste Angel Gallardo, proposait de suivre l’exemple des États-Unis et de certains pays européens qui ont introduit des espèces exotiques pour lutter contre les parasites agricoles par des “moyens scientifiques”. Dans cette optique, Gallardo se rend en France en 1911 et entre en contact avec le bactériologiste Félix d’Hérelle, qui a découvert un bacille capable d’infecter et de tuer les sauterelles, et l’invite à tester sa méthode en Argentine. 

Il s’agissait toutefois d’une tentative de résolution d’un problème complexe – qui retient encore l’attention des scientifiques aujourd’hui – par le biais d’une solution qui, bien qu’innovante, nécessitait encore beaucoup de recherches et de tests. La lutte biologique n’était pas seulement en contradiction flagrante avec les méthodes chimiques, mais c’était une activité qui nécessitait également, et nécessite toujours, de développer une compréhension détaillée des relations écologiques qui n’étaient pas claires. Son efficacité restait à prouver et en ce sens, malgré l’enthousiasme manifesté par certains, beaucoup étaient réticents et méfiants quant à l’utilité réelle de cette “nouvelle” méthode. Ainsi, l’avis des “experts” n’était pas unanime et les contestations n’étaient pas rares.

Les différends avec d’autres collègues et groupes de recherche ont laissé une trace durable dans la carrière scientifique de Félix d’Hérelle. La plus célèbre d’entre elles, la dispute sur la priorité de la découverte du bactériophage, a été largement rapportée et discutée dans l’historiographie de ces dernières années. Dans le cadre de cette conférence, nous souhaitons toutefois nous concentrer sur les étapes précédant cette découverte, alors que d’Hérelle débutait dans la bactériologie et cherchait à se faire une place dans le concert scientifique international. Son séjour en Amérique latine a constitué une étape stratégique dans sa formation et sa future carrière. Nous sommes particulièrement intéressés par les essais réalisés en Argentine et les conflits qui ont surgi autour de cette expérience.

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The reception of Cesare Lombroso’s theories in France: the case of Le Mans’ learned society

By Franco Capozzi, University of Turin

In 1876 Cesare Lombroso (1835-1909), a professor of Forensic Medicine and Public Hygiene at the University of Turin and widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of modern criminology, published the first edition of The Criminal Man, one of the most famous criminological treatises ever written. In his book, Lombroso claimed that criminals were a subspecies of the human race and that they exhibited distinct physical and mental features than law-abiding individuals, such as unusual shapes of the skull, the presence of tattoos and a lack of moral sense. According to Lombroso, criminal behavior was not the result of a free will, but of a biological predisposition. Criminals were basically “throwbacks” to an earlier stage of human evolution, modern primitive men unable to control their violent and immoral instincts. The theory of the “born criminal” travelled all over the world and had an enormous influence on nineteenth century European culture, even though it had no scientific basis. This does not mean, however, that Lombroso did not encounter resistance to his ideas.

Cesare Lombroso. Photogravure. Credits: WikiMedia commons

This was particularly true in France, where Lombroso’s theories were rejected by the two leading representatives of the French School of criminology: Gabriel Tarde (1843-1904), magistrate and director of the Justice Ministry’s statistical service in Paris, and Alexander Lacassagne (1843-1924), professor of Forensic Medicine at the University of Lyons. Unlike Lombroso, both scholars explained crime in sociological rather than biological terms. Tarde denied the existence of a “born criminal” marked by a cluster of physical anomalies and maintained that the similarities between offenders derived from their belonging to the same professional group. In Tarde’s view, criminality was a learned behavior that resulted primarily from the interaction with disadvantaged social environments rather than the product of a biological predisposition. Similarly, Lacassagne dismissed Lombroso’s atavistic explanation of crime and stressed the importance of poor living conditions in the etiology of crime. ‘The social milieu – he wrote – is the culture medium of crime; the microbe is the criminal, an element which only becomes active when it finds the medium to make it ferment’ (Lacassagne quoted from Renneville 2014).  

While the reception of Lombroso’s theories in France has been the subject of numerous studies in recent years, the way in which they were received by less known actors and in more peripheral contexts is still worth investigation. One interesting case study in this regard is represented by the learned society of Le Mans. Founded in 1761 by a royal decree of Louis XV, the Society of Agriculture, Sciences, and Arts of Sarthe is the oldest learned society in the Sarthe region. In 1840 it launched its own journal, which continues to be published to the present day. An analysis of all the volumes of the Bulletin published from 1840 to 1927 seems to reveal that Lombroso’s ideas did not spark much debate in the local scientific community. In fact, only one article refers to the controversial theories of the Italian scientist. The text was published in 1890 by Paul Hervé, a physician at the local hospital and a member of the Sarthe’s learned society, and reported the content of a communication he had presented a few months earlier to the Medical society of Le Mans. The article, which was entitled Essai sur la suggestion mentale (Essay on Thought Transmission), quoted the testimonies of several men of science of unquestionable credibility who had witnessed firsthand apparently inexplicable phenomena of thought transmission, mental telepathy and hypnosis, and concluded that the latter should be made the subject of serious scientific investigations. In the final bibliography, Hervé included two works written by Lombroso: the 1889 French translation of L’Homme de génie (The Man of Genius) and the 1886 second Italian edition of Studi sull’ipnotismo (Studies on Hypnotism). In addition to studying crime and criminals, Lombroso became in fact very interested in spiritualism, mediumship and hypnosis, publishing several works on the topic and even attending séances presided over by the world-famous medium Eusepia Palladino, an experience that produced a strong impression on him. After outlining the main theories that had been formulated hitherto to explain thought transmission, Hevré went on to discuss whether this phenomenon could be considered the product of a pathological condition. After all, he noted, most of the subjects involved in these experiments suffered from nervous disorders, hysteria in particular. Although he discarded this hypothesis, Hevré quoted in a footnote a passage from Lombroso’s L’Anthropologie criminelle et ses récents progrès (Criminal anthropology and its recent progress), in which the Italian criminal anthropologist had claimed that genius was often associated with pathology, especially with epilepsy and degeneration:

The fact that genius is frequently derived from parents either addicted to drink, of advanced age, or insane, certainly points to this conclusion, as also does the appearance of genius subsequently to lesions of the head. It is also indicated by frequent anomalies, especially of cranial asymmetry; the capacity of the skull being sometimes excessive, sometimes abnormally small; by the frequency of moral insanity, and of hallucinations; by sexual and intellectual precocity, and not rarely by somnambulism. To these we may add the prevalence of suicide, which is, on the other hand, very common among epileptic patients

(Lombroso 1890, pp. 110-111)
Cesare Lombroso attending a séance in Milan in 1908. Salt print photo. Credits: Cesare Lombroso Museum of Criminal Anthropology

In conclusion, an analysis of the Bulletin de la Société d’ agriculture, sciences et arts de la Sarthe seems to confirm that French scientists and physicians adopted a rather hostile attitude towards Lombroso’s theories. However, the article by Paul Harvé shows that Lombroso’s publication were read and discussed not only in intellectually thriving cities like Paris and Lyons, but also in more peripheral locations like Le Mans.

Selected bibliography

Paul Hevré, “Essai sur la suggestion mentale”, Bulletin de la Société d’ agriculture, sciences et arts de la Sarthe, 24 (1889), pp. 357-424.

Cesare Lombroso, L’anthropologie criminelle et ses récent progrès, Paris, Felix Alcan, 1890.

Marc Renneville, “Exploring the History of French Criminology (1885-1939): the Case of the Archives de l’Anthropologie Criminelle”, Criminocorpus, 2014, http://journals.openedition.org/criminocorpus/2753

Francesco Paolo de Ceglia, Lorenzo Leporiere, “Becoming Eusapia: The Rise of the ‘Diva of Scientists’” Science in Context 33, 4 (2020), pp. 441–71. doi:10.1017/S026988972100020X.

Carlos S. Alvarado, Massimo Biondi, “Cesare Lombroso on Mediumship and Pathology”, History of Psychiatry 28, 2 (2017), pp. 225–241. doi:10.1177/0957154X16686904.

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Scientific police: an example of the technological transfer between the two sides of the Atlantic

By Silvano Montaldo, Cesare Lombroso Museum of Criminal Anthropology, University of Turin

The circulation of the technical knowledge of the scientific police is an example of the technological transfer between the two sides of the Atlantic, and of the existing tensions in the field of positivist criminology. The important body of letters received by Juan Vucetich (La Plata, Museo Policial) from European correspondents is an eloquent demonstration of this. His personal identification system, which replaced Bertillon’s anthropometric measurements with the collection of fingerprints, was adopted by the Italian forensic police after it spread to Latin America. In this process, what was weakened was the anthropological perspective of Lombrosian criminology, with its baggage of signs of degeneration and atavism, while a new perspective of institutionalization of scientific knowledge by the state was opening up.

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An iridescent pendant made with beetle’s elytra

By Adriana E. MarvaldiCONICET/División Entomología del Museo de La Plata, Argentina

The beetles, insects of the Order Coleoptera, are distinguished by the presence of elytra. This is the fundamental feature that defines the largest and most diverse group of animals on Earth (Lawrence and Newton 1982). The elytra (singular, elytron) are the hardened, sclerotized fore wings, evolutionarily modified as a protective case that covers the hind wings (those used to fly) and dorsum of the abdomen when at rest. The beetles and their elytra come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, textures, and colors. Many species of beetles, from several different families, look like jewels because of their iridescent structural colors, a visual phenomenon resulting from the interaction of light with the nanostructures of the integument that changes color according to the viewing angle (Seago et al. 2009; Saranathan et al. 2015). No wonder that in so many cultures, of all times and all around the world, iridescent beetles and their parts are integrated into ornaments full of beauty and symbolism.

For an entomologist, with a special interest in beetles, a set of dozens of sparkling, green elytra assembled into a strip immediately catches the eye. An object like this was noticed, rather unexpectedly, leaning on a shelf of the archaeological-ethnographic collection of the Americas at BASA-Museum of Bonn. The cultural and natural environments from which it comes were intriguing and to figure them out would require some research. At first sight, it had no tag attached, but a closer look revealed the inventory information written in the underside of one elytron (BASA Inv.-No. 5724). In the Museum´s inventory Book the number led to a succinct description of the object: “Ketteanhänger aus Insekten Panzern mit Federn (rot/gelb) am Ende” [Chain pendant made of insect armor with feathers (red/yellow) at the end]. In the last column, the object is attributed, with doubts, to the collection “Jankausky (?)”.

Located on another shelf, a few steps away from the drawer holding the pendant made of beetle’s elytra, there it was an entire beetle exemplar, exhibited as an object with an inventory tag attached to one of its legs (BASA Inv. –No. Hm35). A giant insect of more than 60 mm long and 25 mm wide, with iridescent integument showing hues from green to purple particularly in the elytra. Its shape and general aspect indicated with certainty its membership to the Buprestids, a family of Coleoptera which are commonly called “jewel beetles”. Observation of additional details suggests it is the species Euchroma gigantean (Linnaeus), a wood borer beetle inhabiting the Neotropical rain forests, and considered the largest buprestid of South America. Without further collection data, a direct link of this “object” with the previous one could not be established. But it was tempting to do an association because, as it will be explained later, beetles of this species are among the main sources of the gleaming elements that people from the Amazonian lowlands use to create ornaments.

The characteristics observed in object No. 5724 indicate it is one of the typical ear pendants made by the Jivaroan people (e.g., Shuar and Achuar) from the Amazon lowlands between Ecuador and Peru (Rivers 2003; AMNH 2017). People from the Amazon Basin are known for their variety of personal ornaments that they wear for special occasions, made with materials taken from their natural environment, like colorful bird feathers, little stones, seeds, plant fibers, and iridescent beetle elytra. The wing covers (elytra) of two different beetles have been documented to be used in the elaboration of their ornaments: Euchroma gigantean (Linnaeus) from the family Buprestidae and Chrysophora chysochlora (Latreille) from the Scarabaeidae. In object No. 5724 from BASA, the elytra from its upper part are longitudinally striate, greenish shimmering purple and gold, and longer and more flat than the elytra strung on the rest of the pendant, which are shorter, apically more curved, and strikingly sparkling green colored with a thickly punctuated texture. The former elytra are most likely from buprestids, and the latter, from scarabs.

This was a short story about a lucky day for a coleopterist visiting an ethnographic collection. In the end, it looks like the elytra are meant to provide beauty and protection, not only to the beetles.

References

AMNH. 2017. Beetle-Wing Body Art: Shuar Ear Ornaments. https://www.amnh.org/explore/news-blogs/from-the-collections-posts/beetle-wing-body-art-shuar-ear-ornaments.

Lawrence, J F & Newton, Jr. AF. 1982. Evolution and Classification of Beetles. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics, 13 (1): 261-290.

Rivers, VZ. 2003. Emeralds on wings: Jewel beetles in textiles and adornment. Pp. 163-174. In Motte-Florace, E. and Thomas, J. M. C. (Eds.) Les ‘insectes’ dans la tradition orale/ Insects in oral literature and traditions. Paris: Peeters.

Saranathan V, Seago AE, Sandy A, Narayanan S, Mochrie SGJ, Dufresne ER, Cao H, Osuji CO, Prum RO. 2015. Structural diversity of arthropod biophotonic nanostructures spans amphiphilic phase-space. Nano Lett. 15, 3735-3742 (doi:10.1021/acs.nanolett.5b00201).

Seago AE, Brady P, Vigneron J-P, Schultz TD. 2009. Gold bugs and beyond: a review of iridescence and structural colour mechanisms in beetles (Coleoptera). J. R. Soc. Interface 6, S165-S184 (doi:10.1098/rsif.2008.0354.focus).

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Traveling skulls. About some skulls and casts from France kept in the storerooms of the Museum of La Plata

By Nathalie Richard, Le Mans Université

The historiography of science museums has mostly emphasized the circulation of specimens from the Souths to the Nords or from the peripheries to the centres. The skulls and casts kept in the collections of the anthropology section of the Museum of La Plata (Argentina) tell a more intricate story.

Certainly, many specimens related to the history of physical anthropology were collected in Argentina and sent to museums in the Western world, for example to the Natural History Museum in Paris or to the Anthropology Society of Paris. But other specimens traveled in the other direction. The catalogue of the anthropology section of the Museum of La Plata, compiled by the director of this section, Robert Lehmann-Nitsche, in 1911, demonstrates this, as well as specimens currently kept in the reserves.

Among these specimens from Europe, many belonged to the collection of Francisco Pascasio Moreno (1852-1919), a wealthy amateur who had built an important collection, kept in a family estate. He donated this collection to the Province of Buenos Aires, allowing the foundation, in 1878, of the Anthropological and Archaeological Museum of the Province, of which he was appointed curator. Moreno travelled to Paris in 1880-1881, where he continued his anthropological research and strengthened his contacts with French scholars, for example with Paul Broca (1824-1880). The Société d’anthropologie de Paris (1859), of which he was the founder, was then an important center for Western physical anthropology. The methods, models of interpretation and practices it promoted served as an inspiration for the creation of many similar associations in Europe and North America. Back in Argentina, Moreno devoted his efforts to the creation of a national museum of which his anthropological museum would be the core. This project failed, and another museum in the city of Buenos Aires became the national museum, but Moreno’s efforts led to the foundation of the Provincial Museum of La Plata, which was gradually established from 1884 onwards in the new provincial capital, where his collections were transferred (see bibliography).

These collections reflected Moreno’s scholarly explorations in Argentina, but also his contacts with scientists and merchants, both locally and abroad. It is thus not surprising that the anthropological series gathered by Moreno contained not only American but also French and European remains. Paul Broca, the Society and its Laboratory of Anthropology founded in 1867 were important providers. Thus, the Museum of La Plata now possesses, among others, original French skulls from the 17th century collected by Broca in Parisian cemeteries.

Fig. 1. Photograph by Nathalie Richard.

Among the skulls from France kept at the La Plata Museum, some have traveled more than others, since they have crossed the Atlantic twice. This is the case, for example, of the skull numbered 1760 in the 1911 catalog (Fig. 1). This cast from the Museum of Natural History in Paris demonstrates the existence of exchanges in both directions between La Plata and Paris (also Lyon, since some series came from the Museum of Natural History in that city). It is an outcome of the relationship established between Moreno and the professor of anthropology of the Paris Museum, Armand de Quatrefages. In 1874, the former sent five skulls to Paris. In return, Quatrefages sent him twelve casts of American busts and skulls (from the north and south) taken from the Parisian collections for his collection, which was still private at that time (Farro 2009). This skull bears an inscription that tells more about its history: “Skull of the ancient inhabitants of the coasts of Peru found in the huacas or tombs of the ruins of the temple of Pachacamac, situated 6 leagues south of Lima – given by Mr. J. Deville”. This important site was excavated in a more systematic way from the end of the 19th century onward, but it was explored by curious and collectors well before this date. In France for example, Joseph Dombey brought back an important collection of ethnographic and archaeological objects of Peru, for part coming from this site in 1785, and gave it to the Royal Cabinet in 1786. From this time on, a somewhat imprecise geographical area called “Peru”, associated with a somewhat vague “Inca” civilization, became an object of curiosity and covetousness among French amateurs of archaeology and from institutions. Numerous objects from this region thus entered private and public collections, through the agency of scholars, often commissioned by institutions, but also through soldiers and merchants (Riviale, 1996). The skull #1760 is the result of this history, while the arrival of its cast in Argentina is related to the will of the Argentinian amateur Moreno to establish his reputation and a dialogue with more famous professional European scholars. Later the transfer of the cast from the private collection to the public museum was the result of Moreno’s strategy to establish his influence on the natural, archaeological and ethnographic sciences in Argentina through the foundation of a museum that would be under his control.

Thus, the French skulls preserved in the Museum of La Plata tell us of connections between scholars, of histories of private and public collections, and of strategies of distinction and reputation based on these collections (for a comparison, Corsi 2008). They also point to a common territory in which scientific methods (anthropometry) and theoretical interpretative frameworks were shared, that of the physical anthropology of the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century. This anthropology, for which Paris was one of the main centers, used “race” as its central concept and considered skulls to be the most important part of the skeleton for assessing anatomical differences between human groups. Based on the identification of what they called “racial types”, the scientists of the time reconstructed the population histories of the various regions of the globe, including the Americas. Moreno, his collections, and later the collections of the Museum of La Plata, participated in this common space in which specimens circulated as much as ideas, and in both directions.

Selected bibliography

Pietro Corsi, Fossils and Reputations. A Scientific Correspondence: Pisa, Paris, London, 1853–1857, Pisa, Edizioni Plus – Pisa University Press, 2008.

Máximo Farro, La formación del Museo de La Plata. Coleccionistas, comerciantes, estudiosos y naturalistas viajeros a nes del siglo XIX, Rosario, Prohistoria, 2009.

Irina Podgorny, “Du Musée au Panthéon en Argentine. Le destin des collections anthropologiques dans l’Argentine contemporaine », Politika, 2019, https://www.politika.io/fr/article/du-musee-au-pantheon-argentine

Irina Podgorny, Margaret Lopes, El desierto en una vitrina. Museos e historia natural en la Argentina, Mexico, Limusa, 2008 (2e éd., Rosario, Prohistoria, 2014)

Pascal Riviale, Un siècle d’archéologie française au Pérou (1821-1914), Paris, L’Harmattan, 1996 (traduction espagnole, https://books.openedition.org/ifea/3568 ).

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Collections Museums Objects Research results

Des crânes voyageurs. A propos de quelques crânes et moulages venus de France conservés dans les réserves du Musée de La Plata

Par Nathalie Richard, Le Mans Université

L’historiographie des musées de sciences a surtout mis en exergue le mouvement des spécimens des suds vers les nords ou des périphéries vers les centres. Les crânes et moulages conservés dans les collections de la section d’anthropologie du Musée de La Plata (Argentine) racontent une histoire plus complexe.

Certes de nombreux spécimens liés à l’histoire de l’anthropologie physique ont été collectés en Argentine et ont été envoyés vers les musées du monde occidental, par exemple au Muséum d’histoire naturelle de Paris ou à la Société d’anthropologie de Paris. Mais d’autres spécimens ont voyagé dans l’autre sens. Le catalogue de la section d’anthropologie du Musée de La Plata, rédigé par le directeur de cette section, Robert Lehmann-Nitsche, en 1911 le démontre, de même que des pièces actuellement conservées dans les réserves.

Parmi ces spécimens provenant d’Europe, plusieurs appartenaient à la collection de Francisco Pascasio Moreno (1852-1919), riche amateur qui avait réuni dans une propriété familiale une importante collection dont il fit don à la Province de Buenos Aires, permettant la fondation, en 1878, du Musée anthropologique et archéologique de la Province dont il fut nommé conservateur. Moreno effectua un séjour à Paris en 1880-1881, où il poursuivit ses recherches anthropologiques et renforça ses contacts avec des savants européens, par exemple avec Paul Broca (1824-1880). La Société d’anthropologie de Paris (1859), dont il était le fondateur, était alors un important foyer de l’anthropologie physique occidentale. Les méthodes, les types d’interprétation et les pratiques qu’elle promouvait servirent d’inspiration pour la création de nombreuses associations similaires en Europe et en Amérique du nord. De retour en Argentine Moreno consacra ses efforts à la création d’un musée national dont son musée anthropologique serait le noyau. Ce projet échoua, et un autre musée de la ville de Buenos Aires devint musée national, mais les efforts de Moreno aboutirent à la fondation du Musée provincial de La Plata, inauguré progressivement à partir de 1884 dans la nouvelle capitale provinciale, où ses collections furent transférées (voir bibliographie).

Ces collections étaient le reflet des prospections savantes de Moreno en Argentine, mais aussi de ses contacts avec des scientifiques et des marchands, localement et au-delà des frontières. Aussi n’est-il pas étonnant que les séries anthropologiques rassemblées par Moreno aient contenu des vestiges humains américains, mais aussi français et européens. Paul Broca, la Société et son Laboratoire d’anthropologie fondé en 1867 étaient des pourvoyeurs importants. Aussi le Musée de La Plata possède-t-il, parmi d’autres, des crânes français originaux du XVIIe siècle collectés par Broca dans les cimetières parisiens.

Fig. 1. Photograph by Nathalie Richard.

Parmi les crânes venus de France du Musée de La Plata, certains ont plus voyagé que les autres, puisqu’ils ont traversé deux fois l’Atlantique. Tel est le cas, parmi d’autre, du crâne numéroté 1760 dans le catalogue de 1911 (Fig. 1). Ce moulage issu du Museum d’histoire naturelle de Paris manifeste l’existence d’échanges dans les deux sens entre La Plata et Paris (et également Lyon puisque des séries proviennent du Muséum d’histoire naturelle de Lyon). Il est le produit de la relation établie entre Moreno et le professeur d’anthropologie du musée parisien, Armand de Quatrefages. En 1874, le premier envoie cinq crânes à Paris et en retour, Quatrefages lui adresse pour sa collection (qui est alors encore privée), douze moulages de bustes et de crânes américains (du nord et du sud) issus des collections parisiennes (voir Farro 2009). Ce crâne porte une inscription qui renseigne sur son histoire : « Crâne des anciens habitants des côtes du Pérou trouvé dans les huacas ou tombeaux des ruines du temple de Pachacamac à 6 lieues au sud de Lima – donné par M. J. Deville ». Ce site important a été fouillé de manière systématique à partir de la fin du XIXe siècle, mais il est exploré de manière ponctuelle par des curieux et des collectionneurs bien avant cette date. En France par exemple, Joseph Dombey a rapporté en 1785 une importante collection d’objets ethnographiques et archéologiques du Pérou, pour partie issus de ce site et donnés au Cabinet du roi en 1786. A partir de cette date, une zone géographique un peu imprécise appelée « Pérou », associée à la civilisation « Inca », fait l’objet de la curiosité et de la convoitise des amateurs français d’archéologie et des institutions. De nombreux objets de cette région arrivent ainsi dans des collections privées et publiques, par l’intermédiaire de savants, souvent missionnés par les institutions, mais aussi de militaires et de commerçants (Riviale, 1996). Le crâne numéro 1760 est le produit de cette histoire, tandis que l’arrivée de son moulage en Argentine est liée à la volonté de l’amateur argentin Moreno d’établir sa réputation et d’entrer en dialogue avec des savants professionnels européens plus reconnus que lui. Le transfert du moulage de la collection privée vers le musée public est quant à lui le résultat des stratégies de Moreno afin d’établir son influence sur les sciences naturelles, archéologiques et ethnographiques en Argentine grâce à la fondation d’un musée qui serait sous son contrôle.

Aussi les crânes français conservés au Musée de La Plata nous parlent-ils de contacts entre savants, de constructions de collections privées et publiques, de stratégie de prestige et de réputation fondées sur ces collections (pour une comparaison, voir Corsi 2008). Ils évoquent aussi un espace commun de méthodes scientifiques (l’anthropométrie) et de grilles d’interprétation théoriques, celui de l’anthropologie physique de la deuxième moitié du XIXe siècle et des premières décennies du XXe siècle. Cette anthropologie, dont Paris est l’un des premiers foyers, fait de la « race » son concept central et du crâne la partie du squelette la plus importante pour qualifier anatomiquement les différences entre les groupes humains. A partir de l’identification de ce qu’ils appellent des « types raciaux », les savants d’alors reconstruisent l’histoire du peuplement des diverses régions du globe, dont les Amériques. Moreno, ses collections, puis les collections du Musée de La Plata, participent de cet espace communs dans lequel les spécimens circulent autant que les idées, et ce dans les deux sens.

Bibliographie indicative

Pietro Corsi, Fossils and Reputations. A Scientific Correspondence: Pisa, Paris, London, 1853–1857, Pisa: Edizioni Plus – Pisa University Press, 2008.

Máximo Farro, La formación del Museo de La Plata. Coleccionistas, comerciantes, estudiosos y naturalistas viajeros a nes del siglo XIX, Rosario, Prohistoria, 2009.

Irina Podgorny, “Du Musée au Panthéon en Argentine. Le destin des collections anthropologiques dans l’Argentine contemporaine », Politika, 2019, https://www.politika.io/fr/article/du-musee-au-pantheon-argentine

Irina Podgorny, Margaret Lopes, El desierto en una vitrina. Museos e historia natural en la Argentina, Mexico, Limusa, 2008 (2e éd., Rosario, Prohistoria, 2014)

Pascal Riviale, Un siècle d’archéologie française au Pérou (1821-1914), Paris, L’Harmattan, 1996 (traduction espagnole, https://books.openedition.org/ifea/3568 ).

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Museums News Research trips

Museo de La Plata as the centerpiece of the SciCoMove

Museo de La Plata as an affiliated entity of the Universidad Nacional de La Plata is an important partner of the SciCoMove project. It holds an important collection of around 4 million pieces and specimens, most of them from Argentina and other South American countries. Moreover, the Museo is also a home to an archive that preserves the documents helping in research on the history of science.

Francisco P. Moreno, the founder and the first director of the Museo de La Plata. Photograph by Nathalie Richard.

On 7 December 2021, the team of the Museo de La Plata and the co-coordinators of the SciCoMove project, Nathalie Richard and Irina Podgorny, discussed the work to be done, research to be carried and the secondments to be implemented both to and from the museum.

Researchers Susana V. García, Alejandro Martínez, Ana Carolina Arias, Adriana Marvaldi, Guadalupe del Río, Sara Montemayor, as well as Analía Lanteri (Director of the Museo), Mariela Amor (architect qnd photographer) et Abogada Agostina Curcio (Directora of the Department of International Relations of the Universidad Nacional de La Plata) were present at the meeting which took place in a magnificent Council Chamber of the museum.

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Collections News People Research trips

First SciCoMove secondments to La Plata (November-December 2021)

Nathalie Richard (Le Mans University), and Silvano Montaldo (Lombroso Museum, University of Turin) are now in La Plata.

Cast Skeleton of Diplodocus Carnegii, Museo De La Plata, Argentina (photograph by S. Montaldo).

Silvano Montaldo is working, with the help of the anthropology and Museum Archive teams at La Plata, on the circulation of Cesare Lombroso’s ideas on physical anthropology and criminology in Argentina (case study). He discovered some interesting archives in the La Plata Police Museum. This museum keeps the archives of Juan Vucetich, who devised a system of fingerprint identification in the 1890’s, and was in contact with Lombroso.

Nathalie Richard is working with the La Plata Museum team and the team at the Museum Archive, on communication and dissemination. She helps planning the training session on “archives and collections”, designed for PhD students (July 4-8 2022). Together with the La Plata teams, she is selecting interesting specimens and archive files, attesting to the circulation of collections between Europe and Argentina, which could be included in the mooc and the digital exhibition.

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Objects Research trips

Sweating pots

By Irina Podgorny, CONICET/Archivo Histórico del Museo de La Plata, Argentina

This story begins in a warehouse of the FAMILLE Association, SOLIDARITÉ ET CULTURES located on the Boulevard de la Liberación in the city of Marseille. Or a little earlier, it is true, on a morning of torrential rain, impossible for a walk without a raincoat or protection of any kind, on a pause on that excursion that went in the direction of the Natural History Museum of the city. A journey – it was not known yet – marked by the administration of water.

Glazed container with the handle and the two holes in the upper section; the mouth to carry and the python – smaller – to drink. Photography: Adela Schäffner.

The Natural History Museum is located in the north wing of the magnificent Longchamps Palace, the twin wing of the one where, opposite, is the Museum of Fine Arts. It is a mansion that was inaugurated in 1869 to celebrate the end of the problems derived from the drought that devastated this Provençal port. Thanks to an engineering work that made it possible to transport the water from the Durance River to the homes of the people of Marseille, after more than 30 years of work, a complex network made up of 85 kilometers of channels and underground pipes managed to supply water to this city, where the sea ​​reigns but drinking water is lacking. For this reason, to commemorate this milestone, it was decided to build the Longchamps Palace at the end of the avenue of the same name in the upper reaches of the Les Cinq Avenues neighborhood. It was commissioned by the architect Henri-Jacques Espérandieu (1829 – 1874) who designed it as a true ode to water, as reflected in the allegorical sculptures of fertility and abundance. This Baroque-inspired complex is made up of a majestic colonnade and a central fountain known as the Chateau d’eau or Water Castle. The fountain depicts a cart drawn by bulls that carries grapes and wheat and above it three female figures stand, a symbol of life, with falls and waterfalls whose noise made the rain of that day sound more terrible than it really was. Although by then, it did not matter much either: in Liberación, the solidarity association sold umbrellas for a couple of coins and, for the same price, a little further inside, you could get toys, clothes, antiques, books, pots and glassware. There were also many shelves full of ceramics, earthenware and porcelain of all kinds, colors and tastes, one of the many human perditions, a sign of sedentary life and a declared enemy of suitcases and air travel. Among the tidal wave of objects given to charity and awaiting their new owners, a jug stood out, a cylindrical vase, with a glazed finish, marbled in shades of creams and browns. Probably Provençal, apparently a bit old. With that vintage consisting of an umbrella and a jug under our arms, we returned to Cassis.

“What is this called in English?” – the English-speaking colleagues from the Camargo Foundation asked the next day. “Botijo” – answered the Wikipedia version in that language, confirming the Spanish origin of the object. (1) But, nevertheless, to the Francophones he said something else: “gargoulette”, a name that ratified, instead, its Mediterranean and Provençal stamp. The encyclopedia also called them cachucho, piporro, pirulo, peche and rallo, forgetting about “glass and ceramic”, a word that is now in disuse and invented in 1809 by Jean Fourmy, a potter from Paris. A word that is linked to the studies and experiments carried out in the early nineteenth century where the physics and chemistry of materials were combined with the large-scale production of earthenware and the possibility of mastering the technologies that guaranteed the cooling of liquids.

“YDROCÉRAME”, Fourmy’s neologism, was composed of two words of Greek origin: “Ydros” which referred to sweat, and keramos, to clay pots. This designated the family of glasses that sweated and any container of earth whose permeability enabled it to cool its contents thanks to the property of cooling by means of the transudation mechanism.

When the mineralogist and chemist Alexandre Brongniart (1770-1847) in 1844 published his Traité des arts céramiques ou Des poteries considérées dans leur histoire, leur pratique et leur théorie, he took up Fourmy’s classification but added an H and an explanation reminiscent of the distribution of plants according to the climatic zones of the globe: a Hydrocerame was a type of ceramic that could be found in climates where the lowest temperature oscillated by an average of 15 degrees but also where it could rise well beyond 30. This type of glasses had the property of lowering the temperature of the liquids stored there to about 8 degrees with respect to the environment. The name given by Fourmy served, as in geology and mineralogy, to summarize in a single word all the regional names and, in this way, show that it was a technology shared by different regions dominated by the same problem. From India to Andalusia, passing through Egypt and the torrid area of ​​the American continent, with details in the manufacture that marked its origin, all, however, shared one characteristic: they presented a large surface that favored rapid evaporation that cooled the water while avoiding to go to the gaseous state. The secret: the porosity of the paste, achieved by the addition of fine sand, fired ceramics, clay loams, low-temperature firing, the incorporation of substances later destroyed by firing. Among them, the salt that, when dissolved, left the paste full of small vesicles. The forms were as varied as the names used in the most distant geographies; singular in more than one case but always respecting the principle of extending the surface to achieve rapid evaporation of the water.

Spanish botijo. In Description méthodique du Musée Cerámique de la Manufacture Royale de Porcelaine de Sèvres. Pair MM. A. Brongniart et D. Riocreux. Paris. 1845. Pl. XXII, Fig. 2.

One of the first to break down the manufacture of these vessels had been the citizen Louis Lasteyrie who in 1797 published a memoir on the Spanish alcarrazas in the Journal des Mines, previously read in the French Philomatic Society. It was about those vessels that were manufactured in various regions of the neighboring country, mostly characterized by their grayish bank. Madrid supplied itself with them in Anduxar, Andalusia, a town that obtained the land to model them in the Tamasuro stream. According to Lasteyrie, it was a form imported by the Arabs and was still used in Egypt and other parts of Africa and Asia, the East Indies, Syria, Persia, China. On the other hand, they were unknown in Sicily and also in France. Lasteyre said:

“Despite the neighborhood and relations with Spain, no traveler has so far been in charge of spreading the procedures used in its manufacture of this element, the introduction of which would be extremely useful for our country, not only to cool off in hot weather but also for a health issue”.

As a result, Lasteyrie had been informed about the exact way used to make the alcazarras (2), he had also brought a few to exhibit them to his compatriots together with the samples of the land used, examples that Citizen Darcet analyzed chemically . As a result, it was found that the materials existed on French soil and that producing them would not be onerous.

Lasteyrie was not the only one to propose the import into France of the cooling methods used in other Mediterranean countries. The historian of science Patrice Bret, one of the scholars of Napoleon’s expedition to Egypt (1798-1801), has shown that one of the technologies most observed by the French in that territory was precisely the one that allowed the locals to maintain fresh water in a climate as overwhelming as that of the African desert thanks to its storage in “bardaks” or “qollehs”. In Egypt, the mathematician and geometer Louis Costaz (1767-1842) devoted himself to studying its thermal characteristics, which he later presented in Paris in a debate at the Society for the promotion of national industry created in 1801. For his part, Pierre Rouyer ( 1769-1831), the expedition’s chief pharmacist, published a historical and chemical study of Egyptian ceramic arts highlighting “the advantages that the adoption of ceramics destined to cool water would bring for France”. Shortly after, in 1802, a naturalist would once again exhibit a Spanish alcazarra and an Egyptian bardaca for analysis by Parisian scientists. It would be in this context that Fourmy would invent the name “ydroceramics” to bring together all known forms of refrigerant glasses, launching into the manufacture of them.

Brongniart, meanwhile, with an applied geologist’s eye, dedicated himself to promoting the creation of the ceramic museum of the Sèvres porcelain factory by publishing his catalog in 1845 that included various shapes of sweating vessels from, in this case, Spain. Portugal and Egypt.

At the end of the 19th century the gargoulette was already part of the material culture of Provence, and although some claim it from local roots, this story that began on a rainy day seems to indicate that its spread coincides with the period of the great works of hydraulic engineering held by the Palais de Longchamps. Those that brought water to the houses of Marseille.

Notes:

1. Botijo: Porous clay pot used to hold water and drink from it. It has a handle at the top and has a mouth where it fills on one side and a drinking spout on the other side. The glazed jug, also called winter jug, is used today preferably as an object of decoration. (We have respected the words in italics as they were in the original) In Alfares y alfareros de España. By José Guerrero Martín. Ediciones del Serbal, Madrid, 1988, p. 279.

2. Alcazarra: Porous clay pot that, thanks to the evaporation of the water that seeps, cools the one that remains inside. José Guerrero Martín: ob. cit. 1988, p. 277.