Located on the Carrer de Montcada in Barcelona’s Gothic Quarter, close to major museums such as the Museu Picasso and the Museu Europeu d’Art Modern, the Museu del Mamut, or ‘Mammoth Museum‘ of Barcelona is small by comparison and easy to overlook. Nevertheless, it is certainly worth visiting, particularly if you have an interest in paleontology and prehistory.
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Background to the museum
Mammoth remains dating from the last Ice Age have been found near the town of Viladecans just outside of Barcelona. Elsewhere in the Iberian peninsula, as far south as Granada, many Mammoth skeletons have been discovered, some of which are more than 25,000 years old. This demonstrates that modern Spain was once a snow and ice-covered wilderness, a climate in which the Mammoth, and other Ice-Age fauna such as sabre-tooth tigers and bison, flourished. They inhabited the region until the end of the last Ice Age (around 10,000 BC). They lived alongside human beings, who have left clues to how they live in their rock art, a fine example of which is found in the Altamira cave in Cantabria. The paintings of this cave have been reproduced in the museum, along with scale models of Ice-Age mammals and examples of their skeletons, bones and tusks.
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A tour of the Museum
The entrance hall houses a scale model of a woolly mammoth with real tusks. The sheer size of these beasts, which could weigh more than six tons, can be appreciated here. All the skeletons and tusks housed in the museum are genuine, and along with the animals you will find the skeleton of a Neanderthal man. Other Ice-Age animals on display include a musk-ox, bison and cave bear. There is also a fossilized baby mammoth which died 41,800 years ago when it became trapped in a waterlogged area and drowned. The mud and silt which covered it helped to preserve the remains, and is quite heart-rending to look at, even after so many millennia. The reproductions of the Altamira cave paintings are not of the best standard, though they still illustrate the subjects and style of painting which our ancient ancestors used, such as hand-print paintings made using blow-pipes, and depictions of bison and horses. The fundamental nature of this art inspired Catalan artists such as Miró and Tàpies.
There are guides available in English, and the museum contains a wealth of information about earth’s prehistory, and the creatures of the last Ice-Age. The many reproductions of animals are also fascinating for children, and you will often find school-groups in there being introduced to the collection by the museum’s knowledgeable staff.