Until 2012, the 100-peso bill still honored General Roca—the man responsible for the massacre of most of Patagonia's indigenous population—so it's not surprising that information on Argentina's original inhabitants is sparse. This fascinating but little-visited museum is a welcome remedy.
Begun by local scientist Juan Bautista Ambrosetti in 1904, the collection originally focused on so-called exotic art and artifacts, such as the Australasian sculptures and Japanese
temple altar showcased in the rust-color introductory room. The real highlights, however, are the Argentine collections: if you're planning to visit Argentina's far north or south, they'll provide an eye-opening introduction.
The ground-floor galleries trace the history of human activity in Patagonia, underscoring the tragic results of the European arrival. Dugout canoes, exquisite Mapuche silver jewelry, and scores of archival photos and illustrations are the main exhibits.
In the upstairs northwestern Argentina gallery the emphasis is mainly archaeological. Displays briefly chronicle the evolution of Andean civilization, the heyday of the Inca empire, and postcolonial life. Artifacts include ceramics, textiles, jewelry, farming tools, and even food: anyone for some 4,000-year-old corn?
The collection is run by the University of Buenos Aires’ Faculty of Philosophy and Letters. Although their insightful labels and explanations are all in Spanish, you can ask for a photocopied sheet with English versions of the texts. It's a pleasure just to wander the quiet, light-filled 19th-century town house that contains both the collection and an anthropological library. The peaceful inner garden is the perfect place for some post-museum reflection.