Paleontologists are scientists who study the evolution of plants and animals. Life began on earth over four billion years ago as simple organic compounds. With time, the simple life-forms became more complex. With more time, some of these evolved to live on land, probably about 500 million years ago (mya). Dinosaurs evolved about 250 mya and dominated the landscape for millions of years, but about 60 mya a cataclysmic event occurred that led to the rapid extinction of many species, both on land and in the sea.
The mass extinction permitted other species to evolve, and this included the rise of warm-blooded mammals. About 10 mya a particular species of primates in Africa began the evolutionary process that resulted in monkeys, apes, and eventually hominids. Biologically modern humans evolved in Africa about 200,000 years ago and eventually spread throughout the globe.
Paleontologists looking for dinosaurs.
Remains of prehistoric plants and animals occasionally were deposited in silt, and thereby preserved in a fossilized state. Fossils can range in size from the tiniest single cell organisms to dinosaurs, the largest animals to ever exist. Paleontologists travel around the globe to discover fossilized remains, and with this information slowly reconstruct the evolutionary history of life on earth. Because Nicaragua was formed about 15 mya, most fossils are of sea plants and animals, but prehistoric mammals such as mammoths have also been found.
We are not paleontologists.
Illegal excavations are often conducted with the goal of discovering valuable objects, either for sale or for personal ownership. The focus is on the artifact with no concern for the archaeological context in which it is found or cultural information about past cultures. Sadly, most of the artifacts found in museums (including Mi Museo) come from tomb robbing. The goal of modern museums is to use existing collections to create interesting but educational interpretations. Whereas movies about Lara Croft and Indiana Jones are exciting, they relate more to tomb raiders than they do real archaeologists. Amateur archaeologists also participate in these illegal activities, although usually ignorant that they are breaking patrimony laws. Amateurs lack the professional qualifications for informed, scientific investigation and collect to satisfy their own curiosity. The concept of cultural patrimony explicitly implies that the past should belong to everyone, and museums play an important role in sharing that knowledge.
We are not tomb raiders.
Archaeologists study cultures in the past using artifacts (among other things) as material representations of behavior. For example, they take interest in cooking pots, stone tools, animal bones, and plant residues to better understand ancient diet; or decorated pottery, figurines, and mortuary patterns to interpret religious practices. They do not place value in objects themselves, but rather in their contextual information; i.e., where artifacts are found, what they are found with, etc.
Dr. Geoffrey McCafferty out standing in a field. Sharisse McCafferty and Oscar Pavon excavating an urn at El Rayo. Maria Montoya recording architecture.
Mi Museo is dedicated to the art and archaeology of pre-Columbian Nicaragua, with a goal of presenting information to the general public in a way that is simultaneously entertaining and informative. Exhibits are designed to be accessible to all ages – over 25,000 school children visit the museum annually. Examples from the museum’s collection of over 5000 objects are carefully selected to illustrate the scholarly interpretations, spanning a holistic perspective on ancient indigenous lifeways. Additionally, the museum fulfills a role as a research center where visiting scholars can study collections, consult the excellent library, and exchange ideas about new discoveries and interpretations.