Encyclopaedia and mural museum of Peru in the 18th century
A virtual museum of Human Ecology should be able to communicate to any kind of visitor a clear knowledge of the contents shown, firstly the wider context in which the content is classified, and then the main divisions known for each of them. Geology studies, describes, analyses and interprets places and lands on the earth that are discovered and explored by scientists from different fields, which are home to different communities of living things in such diverse habitats as islands, archipelagos or continents, defined by geographical location, latitude, proximity to the sea, flat or mountainous, near to or far from a river, a fault, a tectonic fold, rocky or sandy or shingle, natural or built. If botanists take part in these expeditions they can identify the species of grasses and trees they encounter and the natural and climactic conditions of the regions they visit. Depending on their specialisation, zoologists can recognise the habitats and feeding areas of the animals they study, be they herbivores or carnivores, from entomologists, whose interest is insects, to different kinds of anthropologists who study all matters of our own species.
Ecology transversally integrates the relationships between natural sciences because, as the Greek name indicates (oikos, home; logos, science), it is the science which studies the relationship of living things with one another and their habitat, integrating the knowledge of natural sciences. Lastly, Human Ecology integrates social and natural sciences through its bio-cultural analysis.
The painting “Historia Natural, Civil y Geográfica del Reino del Perú” (Natural, Civil and Geographic History of the Kingdom of Peru), painted in 1799, when Humboldt was still exploring Latin America, synthesises nature, society, economy and culture, and could be considered the first synthesis of what we now call Human Ecology.
It is an encyclopaedic work on Peru in the 18th century, and is utterly unique. I know of no other like it, nor even similar in its composition and way of transmitting and communicating. It offers descriptions and analysis of the geography, geo-mining products, flora and fauna of the then viceroyalty of Peru, its peoples of different ethnicities or nations, diverse races and origins, in their natural, cultural and social contexts; settlements, monuments, institutions,; agricultural production, the medicinal and nutritional virtues of over a hundred plants, new and native industries, commerce between Spain and Peru, maritime transport in both directions, and economic values, all investments and yields: all of this in writing and with illustrations. But not printed, even though the printing press was already several centuries old, but as an original painted and handwritten work on framed canvas. It was preserved and can be read on a mural three and a quarter metres high.
Emiliano Aguirre, Professor of Palaeontology at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, he started and directed the Sierra de Atapuerca Project until his retirement.
The encyclopaedia “Quadro de Historia Natural, Civil y Geográfica del Reyno del Perú, año de 1779” corresponds to a handwritten text between the sets of figures with animals, plants and anthropomorphs, and is hardly visible even in the enlarged reproduction of this image. It is divided into chapters: Foundation of the Inca empire and its conquest, geographical description of the Kingdom of Peru, ancient and modern population of the Peruvian empire, system of government of Inca and Spanish emperors, natural riches of the Kingdom of Peru, the character of indigenous and nationalised Peruvians, trade by land and sea, and Royal Treasury of the Viceroyalty of Peru.
The museum (mural) consists of a map of Peru, a landscape showing a ridge with silver mines which marks the route to the mining area. Around it the rest of the images appear in rows: 32 are of pairs of women and men from different ethnic groups, half of whom represent the ancient population and the other half the modern, mostly from Africa and Spain. 64 combine a mammal and a plant, all different. Four larger images show groups of marine creatures. The 90 images of birds surround the rest, and in the corners there are two with amphibians and reptiles and two of invertebrates.
The author of the work, conscious of its interest and marvellous information left this comment: “This work […] must be known […], duly printed and bound as a book. I insist on this to the institutions which can sponsor and make its edition a reality”.
Emiliano Aguirre, Professor of Palaeontology at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, started and directed the Sierra de Atapuerca (Burgos) project from 1978 to 1990.
1799. Details, Natural, Civil and Geographic History of the Kingdom of Peru © Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales