San Diego Museum of Man

There has been a lot of changes in my life recently, mostly good, so it has kept me busy, and thus I missed the February post. Part of the busy was that I went on vacation, so I have a lot more museums to blog about. I foresee double posts for the following months, but for the time being, March’s post is…

San Diego Museum of Man, located in San Diego, California


The San Diego Museum of Man is located within Balboa Park, home to many of San Diego’s museums, and a tourist attraction. Theoretically, it should be an easy place to navigate, but  in actuality, it turns out to be quite confusing. My buddy and I traveled with the family member who has not been to Balboa Park before, so it was a new experience for all of us. We made it to the park okay with the aid of the GPS, but it was hard to find parking, and when we did find parking, it was hard to find the museums. I think the park needs more signs indicating where parking lots are (if there are any) and should have more maps around so that first-timers can figure out where they are and want to go. (I would like to go back to Balboa Park and visit the other museums.) The San Diego Museum of Man is open daily from 10am to 5pm. Regular admission to the museum is $12.50; admission to the museum and the special exhibit, Instruments of Torture, is $20.


Instruments of Torture is a well thought out exhibit, so even if you are indifferent about the subject matter, you’ll take a look around. There are illustrations and descriptions to describe how some of the instruments were used, but not so detailed that they are disturbing. Torture is a very grotesque form of punishment that not only results in physical pain, but psychological trauma to survivors, as death is not always the end result, so the subject matter may not be suited for everyone. Instruments of Torture is on display till December 31, 2015, and has a no photography policy. One small detail about the exhibit is that it is located in a separate building, directly across from the museum. To get access, one has to pay for admission in the main building first and then return to the separate building to see the exhibit.

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The first exhibit we saw in the main museum building is “Beerology”, which details the history and science of beer throughout time and various cultures. This exhibit was one of the larger exhibits, and contained plenty of information, however, I’m not a fan of beer, so I didn’t spend too much time in this exhibit, except to snap a few photos. (Also, we only had about an hour to explore before closing time.) For those who are interested, they have a beer tasting each month, so check out the website for more information.


Next up is the “Maya: Heart of Sky, Heart of Earth”exhibit that contains artifacts from and information about  the Mayan civilization. The exhibit contains casts of the Maya monuments with hieroglyphic writings,and even covers the significance of December 21, 2012 in the Mayan calendar. The exhibit is kind of small, so when there were about five people around, it was hard to move about without blocking somebody else’s view.

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First stop on the second floor is “Footsteps Through Time”, which contains information about both primate and human evolution. The first part of the exhibit is the Primate Hall, where visitors encounter an artistic rendering of the largest known primate, Gigantopithecus, as they enter the exhibit; the teeth and lower jaws were all that was ever found, but scientists have been able to estimate that the primate was about 10 ft tall. Also in the Primate Hall, visitors can learn about chimp culture, and compare their hands and feet to those of various primates. The second part of the exhibit is the Hominid Hall, which documents human evolution through a variety of dioramas.


We then traveled through the Time Tunnel to the Human Lab, which the museum considers as part of the Footsteps Through Time exhibit. (The exhibits are related, however they are named individually, so I consider them different exhibits.) The Time Tunnel connects the Hominid Hall, and the Human Lab, thus by traveling through this tunnel, we have traversed millions of years from early humans to the future of human kind, hence the Time Tunnel. In addition, the tunnel itself is an exhibit that documents some of the most significant human breakthroughs. The Human Lab illustrates the possibilities of the future of mankind through cloning and gene selection. Right outside of the Human Lab is the Dig Box, where visitors can have a hands on experience in the field of archaeology by learning the proper ways to dig up fossils.


Continuing on the second floor is “From the Vault: Rare Artifacts with Fascinating Stories”, an exhibit that displayed 20 carefully selected objects from the over 40,000 that is contained in the museum. According to the museum, each artifact reflects a tale as unique as the artifact itself. However, I didn’t really pay close attention to the artifacts or the tales, and thus cannot comment too much. It turns out that this exhibit isn’t a permanent exhibit, it was only on display from December 1, 2012-February  22, 2015, so only the museum and the visitors who payed close attention will ever know those unique tales.


Moving on, we saw “Kumeyaay: Native Californians”, which is an exhibit about the Kumeyaay, the Native American people of present day Southern California and Northern Baja. The exhibit is a small, one room gallery, but gives a detailed look about the life-ways and traditions of the Kumeyaay through various artifacts. (I always enjoy looking at the traditional dwellings that different cultures lived in.)

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Finishing up the museum is “Ancient Egypt: Real Mummies and Artifacts of Dead”, an exhibition about the culture of ancient Egypt. The exhibit has various artifacts from ancient Egypt, such as jewelry, pottery, figurines, and even two authentic mummies. Connected to the Ancient Egypt exhibit is “Adventure Kids in Egypt”, which is a separate exhibit, but I grouped it together since they are both about Egypt. The second exhibit is a children’s exhibit, thus I was only there for a few pictures, and left quickly as I had no children with me, and didn’t want to appear suspicious.

My buddies and I spent about 2 hours going through all the exhibits at the museum. Half of the time was spent at Instruments of Torture as it was the exhibit that I was most looking forward to (not many museums cover the subject matter). The exhibit lived up to my expectations, and was worth the additional $8. Needless to say, the other half of the time was spent at the main museum, however one can definitely spend another hour or more to thoroughly look through everything. (I was pretty hasty, and as written above, I sort of missed one whole exhibit.) Although the main exhibits were detailed and well put together, I feel that the regular admission price is a bit high, I probably would’ve been more satisfied if it was $10, but it is located at a tourist spot. Although I’m not fond of the admission price, I am satisfied with all the exhibits, and I do encourage anyone who is interested in anthropology (and/or related subjects) to visit the San Diego Museum of Man.


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