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Image courtesy of the Canadian Museum of History.

Exhibition: Neanderthals at the Canadian Museum of History—until 01.26.20

By Colin Noden on May 27, 2019

Kinga the Modern Neanderthal. Photo: Colin Noden/Apt613.

Do you notice anything different about this person?

You’ll meet her at the end of the Neanderthal Exhibit at the Canadian Museum of History. By that time, you will be able to understand her a little better. That’s the theme of the Neanderthal exhibit. Get rid of the clichés and open yourself to the wonders of early civilization.

We were not alone. The question, “How did we survive when other similar species failed?” is unspoken in the exhibit, but it hangs about like a ghost.

The artifacts on display looked familiar. The stone tools, bones, and living enclosures looked similar to what I’ve seen in other exhibits from our own past. Even the skeleton of the famous Ferrassie 1, The old man of Ferrassie, on display looked familiar. If you mentally take off the “eye visor” bone extrusion, you could mistake it for being human.

Neanderthal Skeleton. Photo: Colin Noden/Apt613.

The meaning of these things was transformed because I was fortunate to be within eavesdropping distance of a very excited archeologist. Dr. Michael Bisson from McGill University was visiting.

Dr. Michael Bisson at the Neanderthal exhibit opening. Photo: Colin Noden/Apt613.

One of his hobbies is to make replicas of artifacts, using the same techniques as the Neanderthals. He was also telling stories of the discoveries of Neanderthal remains. It was a guilty pleasure to lean back and listen.

But if you don’t have an excited archeologist behind you, there are still plenty of resources. Make sure to read the description cards. Run your hands over the models. Test yourself by taking the quiz at the end of your tour (it’s in a book on the last table).

Some of the artifacts are too fragile to visit North America again.

I’m not sure if my last tip should be done before or after your tour of the Neanderthal exhibit. Visit the gift shop. Yes, you can buy the Neanderthal mug and T-shirt; but there is also a collection of prize-winning books on the subject.

On display at the gift shop. Photo: Colin Noden/Apt613.

If you are a regular museum goer, then I’d suggest buying the books, then coming back for the tour. Then you too can get excited when you notice distinctive colourings on a piece of rock and exclaim to your friend, “I bet this came from the Bruniquel Cave!”

One word of caution though. We were told this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Some of the artifacts are too fragile to visit North America again. So, mark your calendar and plan your visit. It might be a good thing to take your summer visitors to experience. The museum is free and family-friendly on Thursday nights (5–8pm). They only ask that you get a ticket to the exhibit so they can monitor attendance.


The Neanderthal exhibition runs from May 17, 2019 to January 26, 2020 at the Canadian Museum of History (100 Laurier Street, Gatineau). Visit historymuseum.ca for viewing hours and activities. #NeanderthalExhibit