Dutch National Museum of Antiquities (Thanatourism in Leiden, Part II)

Although my favorite part of my recent trip to Holland was visiting all the skeletons and medical oddities at the Museum Boerhaave, I also greatly enjoyed the national antiquities museum, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden.  It's no secret that northern Europe has fantastic museums.  I wrote about the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen a few years ago, and much of that holds for the RMO - the museum has lots of clean lines, a mix of more traditional display cases and novel methods of presenting artifacts, and manages to show you a ton of objects without the claustrophobic feeling that tends to come with antiquities museums in Greece or Italy.

Some of my favorite displays can be seen in this slideshow:

The atrium was really lovely, and on the top floor, there was a Roman-style roof that projected into the display space.  I also very much liked the cut-away of a typical Roman-era grave that was built into the wall, as well as the reconstruction of a columbarium that included actual busts and containers that came from Roman columbaria.  Both of these were very effective ways of presenting what Roman burials looked like.  Similarly, placing the gravestones from Abydos into a cemetery configuration - although it made it hard to read them - gave them more context than they would have had lined up against a wall.

But I know you all want me to get to the actual skeletons, of which the RMO had quite a number.  These are the ones I took photographs of:

So there were skeletons from a range of different time periods in the history of the Netherlands, along with skeletons from elsewhere in the world.  The skeletons were all laid out well, with pretty good signage and often a variety of artifacts to put them into context.  Really, that's my biggest compliment for the museum: the great contextualization of objects, skeletons, and history, particularly in the Archaeology of the Netherlands exhibit, which was extremely well laid-out, absolutely gorgeous, with little activities for kids to do (like explore the beds and objects of children in various time periods).  Just fantastic.  See the middle picture at the link above for an idea of how it's laid out like a timeline/ribbon rather than in just a series of display cases.

And for those of you who want some more Roman-era stuff, here are some of the great pieces the RMO has on display (plus, at the end, a few neat objects from other places and eras):

This museum seemed expensive at first (entry costs 9 euro), especially after I saw the map, which made it look like the museum was pretty spare, but it was quite impressive and well worth my 9E and 3 hours.  (I could have spent more time there, but I was hungry and had to move on to Amsterdam.  In retrospect, I should have spent more time in Leiden.  Wonderful town.)  It feels like the RMO has one of just about everything - this means it's often hard to compare stylistic variation within a subset of artifacts, but overall the collection effectively displays the deep history of Holland.  So if you're ever in the area, do check out this museum and its cute gift shop, where I bought my daughter a copy of Miffy in Latin.


If you are into natural history as well, don't forget to visit the National Museum of Natural History "Naturalis" in Leiden as well on your next visit. It is wonderful. And (I think) the only museum in the world where a true type fossil of an extinct hominin is in display: that of Homo erectus (the original, found by Dubois).
I definitely should have stayed longer in Leiden! I would have loved to have visited the natural history museum and the ethnology museum.

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