Hurel gained a name for himself with the recent publication of
a book on the history of his field of study. His volume La
France préhistorienne de 1789 à 1941 (Prehistorians’
France from 1789 to 1941) examines this field starting from that
paradoxical revolutionary moment when the notion of a “collective
heritage [patrimoine collectif]” was invented,
even as one wanted to struggle against the signs of the old world.
In the case of prehistory, the creation of representations of
the very distant past was to accompany the development of knowledge.
Here, the author offers us his reflections on these increasingly
sophisticated museographical reconstructions, from the life-size
dinosaurs of Waterhouse Hawkins shown at the Crystal Palace in
1851 to those of Jurassic Park, and passing by way of
the Javanese Pithecanthropus erectus presented by Eugène
Dubois in the Dutch India Pavilion at the Paris Universal Exhibition
of 1900. Here, as elsewhere, scientists were torn between the
duty to admit the gaps in their knowledge and the temptation to
make their picks in the great roman à clef of humanity.
As for the public, what it cries out for are detailed likenesses
that would allow it to believe it knows the truth.