The credit for the foundation of the museum belongs mainly to Dr. Ales Hrdlicka, who came with the concept and was the main financial donor too. The thought of opening a museum dedicated to science of man (anthropology) was growing in his head for many years. The first reference to the creation of the museum is dated to 1922. Unfortunately, Hrdlicka’s financial funds, containing money assigned to do this, with its own building, was affected by a credit crunch. Professor Jindrich Matiegka, a friend of Dr. Hrdlicka and principal of Institute of Anthropology, moved the exhibitions to the building of Faculty of Science in Albertov. Museum of Man was opened on the 22nd October 1937 and was renamed to Hrdlicka Museum of Man in the same year.
Dr. Hrdlicka, influenced by his experiences when working as a curator of anthropologic exhibits in the United States National Museum in Washington, intended to place the museum in a detached building with an area covering around 1100 square metres. Today, the museum’s available area covers only 128 square metres, and therefore lots of exhibits cannot be on display.
Based on Dr. Hrdlicka’s idea, the exhibition today is divided into four thematic units which are supposed to cover such a complex topic as human is as best as possible. The most important topics are human evolution and variety and diversity. Two main topics are complemented by exhibits dedicated to development of human being (ontogenesis) and to illnesses, pathology and death.
During the war years financial problems grew and according to accessible sources, Hrdlicka’s funds (originally containing 1 000 000 CZK) stopped existing.
In 1952 the museum, together with Institute of Anthropology, moved to Vinicna 7, where you can find exhibits still to the present time. Visits of the museum have become part of education in biology classes at primary and secondary schools.
At the present time we have been working on a new permanent exhibition as it has not been changed since the move. We are trying to make the new exhibition more complex and we want to integrate scientific discoveries, which has been made in anthropology in last 60 years.
Passage from the letter for TGM
„It is irony that every country has museums of animals and of everything human kind has achieved, but not one has taken the courage so far to build a museum of human phylogeny, ontogeny, variability and physical development. And in the meantime, many generations have been disappearing by dying out, mixing together and changing upon the influence of new standards.“
22nd March 1929
Ales Hrdlicka was born as a first child in March 1869 in Humpolec in then Austria-Hungary. He was born into large and poor family. He was showing natural intelligence, perception and dispositions for studiyng since he was a little boy.
In 1881, when Ales was 12 years old, the whole family emigrated due to economical reasons to the United States and moved to New York. Early years in the states were not easy, Ales had to work in a cigar factory as worker during the day and he studied in the evening school. Later he studied business studies and then medicine at the university. In 1892 when he was 23 years old he successfully graduated and became a doctor of medicine.
In 1894 Ales as a young doctor started to work as an intern in an asylum for mentally ill in Middletown and a year later he became a pathologist. Influenced by these experiences he moved towards anthropology which he studied during 1896 – 1898 in France under professor Manouvrier. After his return to the USA, he started to go on scientific trips to American natives reservations and to East Asia.
Thanks to his knowledge gained by his trips he formed several theories. The most important and still valid is the theory about colonization of the American continent by the migration through the land bridge Bering Strait. If his life had not ceased on 5th of September in Washington by a heart attack, he would have certainly made more expeditions.
Dr. Hrdlicka was honoured with the Huxley Memorial golden medal for his scientific work by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland. At this occasion he lectured on "Neanderthal Phase of Man" in which he introduced his unified theory of man.
He published more than 300 scientific articles during his life and he was a member of many world scientific organisations. He was a cofounder of Anthropologie: International Journal of Human Diversity and Evolution (first Czechoslovak journal dedicated to anthropology) and American Journal of Physical Anthropology magazines.