Museum collections

Piezas del Museo

The museum collection was formed through different types of acquisitions based on the nature of the artefacts and frequently marked by the political, cultural and legislative circumstances of the day.

The 1867 decree that led to the creation of the museum stipulated the allocation of an initial collection comprising exhibits from the Museum of Medals and Antiquities housed at the National Library archaeological and ethnographic artefacts from the Museum of Natural Sciences, and the entire collection of the School of Diplomatics. These early collections were soon augmented by numerous bequests and the purchase of important private collections owned by people such as Manuel de Góngora, José Ignacio Miró, José de Salamanca and Eduardo Toda.

The scientific committees, made up of museum employees who travelled to various locations both in Spain and abroad in search of new acquisitions, were particularly important in this respect. The most notable were the Spanish trips made by Paulino Savirón, Juan Sala, Juan Salas Dóriga, Juan de Dios de la Rada y Delgado and Juan de Malibrán, and the 1871 expedition to the east aboard frigate Arapiles, which returned with a remarkable collection of archaeological artefacts from places such as Sicily, Athens, Cyprus, ancient Troy and Constantinople.
 

Dama de Elche, visita escolar

By the beginning of the 20th century, the institution’s identity as an archaeological museum was becoming increasingly clear. Its collections in the Ethnography, Oriental Art and Americas sections were transferred to the National Museums of Anthropology, Decorative Arts and the Americas, freeing up space for the acquisitions that were flooding in from archaeological finds and excavations, such as Bell Beaker pottery from Ciempozuelos (Madrid), Luis Siret’s collection of artefacts from important sites in southeast Spain, and the objects amassed by the Marquis of Cerralbo during his excavations of Celtiberian sites.

The Guarrazar crowns and the Lady of Elche entered the museum, after a period at the Prado Museum, by virtue of an exchange of artworks with France in the 1940s.. The 1970s saw a new influx of iconic pieces, including the Lady of Baza and the Pozo Moro Monument, as well as materials from Spanish excavations conducted in Egypt and Sudan under the terms of the agreements with the Egyptian government at the time of the construction of the Aswan Dam.

Acquisitions from excavations have declined considerably since 1985 when the regional governments of Spain were given control over such activities, although the museum continues to enrich its collections through purchases and bequests.