Museum of Archaeology and Paleontology of Araraquara - MAPA

There is a place in Brazil where you get used to walk looking at your feet. It is not because looking ahead would be dangerous or something like that. It is because you definitely don’t want to miss a dinosaur or a mammal footprint left in the slabs of sandstones about 135 million years ago.

Dinosaur footprint in the sidewalk
PHOTOGRAPH BY Josiane Kunzler
Invertebrate traces and mammal footprints in the sidewalk
PHOTOGRAPH BY Josiane Kunzler
Dinosaur footprint in the sidewalk
PHOTOGRAPH BY Josiane Kunzler

This is Araraquara city, located in the state of São Paulo and internationally known as the “Jurassic sidewalks’ city”. There is no place around the world with such a visual identity. No other people can go to work, to school, to have lunch with friends walking over these sandstones of 140 million years Paleodesert. The sidewalks are themselves a continuous heritage connecting the other heritages and the people along the city, also linking the urban and the rural area. Therefore, the whole city can be seen as a potential museum.

Unfortunately, in the last decades a lot of people have been destroying the sidewalks in many ways on behalf of modernization. They replace the sandstones by concrete and throw them way, also they cover and paint the footprints. Finally, they play an invaluable loss for local heritage and development.

MAPA and its privileged area
PHOTOGRAPH BY Josiane Kunzler

But in the year of 2014 I had the pleasure to meet a small museum struggling against this movement: the Museum of Archaeology and Paleontology of Araraquara (MAPA). Situated in a privileged area - the original core of the city - it is also integrated to an urban heritage site - the Oiti’s Boulevard - and it is connected to a kind of opened museum, constituted by five sandstone’s isles designed along the same street, in 2007.

This is a science museum created in 2008 and divided into two subareas, as its name indicates. It is singular in many ways. First of all, it is the first museum which combines such topics in São Paulo, the state with the largest number of museological institutions in Brazil, and the first one in the country specialized in ichnological heritage (in terms of Paleontology, it is to say: footprints, excreta, locomotion trails, etc).

Secondly, it is strictly devoted to regional heritage. There are almost 90.000 items from 79 cities only in the archaeological collections, classified between ceramics, lithics, osteodonto-malacological and historical. Among them we can find two indigenous urns filled with skeletons founded in the city of Rincão. On the other hand, considering the paleontological collection there are only 19 slabs of sandstones recovered in the 90’s by Marcelo Adorna Fernandes, a local Paleontologist. Obviously, this number is not a substantial one. But this is why I came to admire MAPA so much. Although recognizing the threats against the sandstones, the museum staff has been working to develop a museological process that keeps the almost 600 slabs - or the most important part of it - safe while involved in the day-to-day life of the population. They consider that it is not just a scientific heritage, it is also historical and cultural heritage, wrought with people every single day since the beginning of the city’s history.

The museum staff cataloging the footprints in the sidewalks.jpg
PHOTOGRAPH BY Josiane Kunzler

With that, we get to its third singularity: it is inspired by the idea that there is no hierarchy between the so called “scientific” and “popular” knowledge. The museum explores contradictions and stimulates the interest on creating new and integrative narratives through scientific methods. This work is done through all museological process (preservation, research and communication), but especially at the permanent exhibitions.

The Archaeological Exhibition
PHOTOGRAPH BY Josiane Kunzler

There are two major exhibitions, each one in a room, separated by a simple yard. When we first go into the museum, through its narrow main door and a short staircase, we find ourselves in the archaeological exhibition called “MAPA: multiple ways of seeing”. It intends to show the museum as a process so it is organized in three different modules: 1 – “MAPA: collections and contexts”; 2 – “MAPA: the constructed narratives”; 3 – “MAPA: between collections and narratives of the present and future possibilities”. In a wider than longer space 188 artefacts are exposed in showcases, drawers or scenarios, distributed in groups to encourage comparisons about the functions, the roles and the shapes. Rarely with solitary labels, the objects are always contextualized in relation with the societies that created and utilized them.

The Archaeological Exhibition
PHOTOGRAPH BY Josiane Kunzler
The Archaeological Exhibition
PHOTOGRAPH BY Josiane Kunzler

From this first room we can get to the second one following artificial dinosaurs’ footprints. Now, a huge door welcomes the public to the exhibition called “Sands from the past, traces in the present”. This reception is also constituted by a design creation showing Araraquara from 140 million years ago - with its sand dunes and footprints - side by side with Araraquara nowadays - with its houses, trees, churches and the fossilized footprints. What a transformation! Inside the room the narrative goes from the common approach of what is a fossil to that specific issue: the loss of footprints from the sidewalks by human aspirations. But the main attraction in the public opinion, specially the kids, may be the diorama that reconstitutes the Paleodesert and presents skeletons from a carnivore dinosaur and a small mammal, two among the variety of possible animals responsible for the footprints.

The Paleontological Exhibition
PHOTOGRAPH BY Josiane Kunzler
Mammal footprints in the Paleontological Exhibition
PHOTOGRAPH BY Josiane Kunzler
Dinosaur footprints in the Paleontological Exhibition
PHOTOGRAPH BY Josiane Kunzler

MAPA could be just another one among a thousand. But it opted to emphasize a new way to talk about the history, the present and the future of Araraquara exploring its unique heritage. But it keeps something in common with the other museums in Brazil: they all struggle to survive, specially today with an authoritarian and antiscientific govern. That way, not only MAPA fights against the footprints destruction, it also fights to continue existing.

MUSEUM INFORMATION

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Josiane Kunzler

Josiane Kunzler is a Brazilian Biologist and PhD in Museology and Heritage. She is the creator of the YouTube channel “Musealiza” (http://bit.ly/musealiza) dedicated to museums, Museology and heritage. As a researcher she is focused on documentation and communication of paleontological heritage in museums. Her thesis examined how museum exhibitions function as devices to establish specific scientific heritage discourses in different types of institutions (in Brazil and in Portugal).