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From section of the Museum of Natural Sciences to Museum of Anthropology, Ethnography and Prehistory (1890-1940)

Historia del museo

In 1890, the museum came under the wing of the Museum of Natural Sciences, the former Royal Cabinet of Natural History, the institution which in 1895 moved its Anthropology Section there. This was made up of the collections brought by several scientific expeditions and journeys undertaken between the 18th and 19th centuries. At the same time, there began the dispersion of the doctor’s anatomical, botanical and zoological collections, which ended up in museums of the university and in the main section of the Museum of Natural Sciences itself. In 1910, a Royal Decree made the Anthropology Section independent from the Museum of Natural Sciences and converted it into the Museum of Anthropology, Ethnography and Prehistory.

During those years, it was a significant scientific and academic centre thanks to the efforts of its director, Manuel Antón, and it had an important library [link to the history of the library] with laboratories where the practical classes of the University’s Anthropology chair were conducted. It was here wehre the first generation of Spanish cultural anthropologists, made up of figures such as Telesforo de Aranzadi, Manuel de las Barras y Aragón and later, Julio Caro Baroja, were trained.

This period was also when some of the most noteworthy pages of medical research, not only in Spain but also internationally, were written in the building, an episode to which the MNA has yet to give due credit. The academic authorities in charge of the museum transferred the rooms facing the station, which had been the home of Doctor González Velasco, to Santiago Ramón y Cajal, so that he could install his laboratory in them. He conducted all his studies between 1903 and 1931 there, even after his official retirement in 1922, and so this is where he was working in 1906 when he was informed that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize. In fact, in order to devote himself body and soul to his vocation, in 1911 he purchased a plot at what is now number 64, Alfonso XII, two doors along from the museum, so that he could build a private house, which still exists today.