Culture of Cabo: A Q and A with Director of the Cabo San Lucas Museum of Natural History
Part Two of Three Parts
Did you continue to work in Baja California Sur at that point?
Yes, I did. In 1980 the people of Baja California Sur expressed a desire for a museum of regional history to be built. And so the first elected governor of the state (BCS became the 31st Mexican state in 1974), Ángel César Mendoza Arámburo (father of the current governor, Carlos Mendoza), put me in charge of establishing a museum in La Paz.
Later, around 2001, I was invited to collaborate with a couple of women who specialized in restorations of historic art objects. These two women asked me to serve as curator of an Adopt An Art Piece Program (Programa de Adopta una Obra de Arte), which restored some of the wooden art pieces from the Misión San Francisco Javier de Biaundó near Loreto. We finished this project in 2003 with the opening a small museum dedicated to the Spanish Mission period.
I traveled a lot throughout Baja California Sur around that time. I was part of a program for the celebration of the 300th anniversary of Loreto, and the history of the Jesuit missions in Baja California Sur. I was able to host the head Jesuit from the Vatican and take him on a tour of these missions–which were so important in my own career–and to talk about the enduring legacy of this period.
The Jesuits didn’t just establish missions. They were on a mission to convert the indigenous population, to teach them agriculture, to put an end to their pagan worship and nomadic hunting and gathering lifestyle. Unfortunately, as happened throughout the Spanish conquest, diseases and other events decimated these populations. That’s why there are no modern day descendants of the Pericú or Guaycura tribes.
During that same time I helped to transform the Loreto museum to its current state. I then met with the State Tourism Director and she invited me to establish what is now the Museum of Music (Museo de la Musica; commonly known by tourists as the “Piano Museum”) in El Triunfo.
I love that museum.
Yes. I originally suggested that it be an exhibit for about two years, but ultimately it became a permanent museum because people responded so positively.
What were the events that led to the creation of the Natural History Museum here in Cabo San Lucas?
This same State Tourism Director that I just mentioned later asked me to take a look at a zebra fossil which is now exhibited in this museum. They were planning to create a museum in conjunction with the Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur.
Back then we only knew it was an equine fossil of approximately two million years of age. We found out later it was a zebra, although there is some debate. An expert from San Diego came to take a look and determined it was a jawbone; however only some its molars met the criteria to call it a zebra fossil. We can’t know what it color it was, or if in fact it had stripes.
So then we brought in an expert from Mexico City, and he determined that the jawbone was not technically a fossil because the fossilizing process was stopped at some point in time. We call it a fossil because of its age range. But strangely enough, it was found in an area of marine fossils.
This specialist determined that it was from an animal that once fed at what we now know as the Sierra de la Laguna. These animals died and their bones were eventually dragged to this area by rainwater, and that’s why they never reached a full fossilization process. A fossil is a “rock” and this jawbone still has bone layers.
This discovery, along with another exciting one on Médano Beach, created the conditions for a museum in Cabo San Lucas.
What discovery was that?
In 1992, during early construction on Villa del Palmar (a resort on Playa El Médano in Cabo San Lucas) many metates (a primitive mealing stone used for grinding grains and seeds) and manos de metate (the hand-held tool used for grinding) were found. These are examples of a very ancient technology that the Chinese have been using for 10,000 or more years.
The Anthropology Institute of La Paz was immediately notified that an important archaeological site was being destroyed. Construction was suspended for nine months while excavations continued. Some of the discovered tools were determined to have been used in ceremonies, others in daily activities. The really interesting thing is that there were examples found to be one, two and three thousand years old, and all were virtually identical. The Pericúes never evolved.
Sadly, the items (metates and manos de metate) that inspired this museum are currently being displayed in La Paz, because according to the standards of the Museo de Antropología, the building where the museum now stands does not meet the safety criteria needed to hold more valuable exhibits.
Article by Chris Sands continues: