Moreno, Francisco Pascasio

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(b. Buenos Aires, Argentina, 31 May 1852; d. Buenos Aires, 22 November 1919),

anthropology, geology, paleontology, geography.

Moreno, who can be considered one of the first anthropologists of Argentina, worked intensively to collect materials in that country and to make them known through preservation in local museums. Moreno spent several years in Europe, where he was inspired by major natural history museums to promote the building of a national establishment of that kind in Argentina. At the start of the twentieth century he was appointed by the Argentine government to act as an expert (perito) in the border conflict between Argentina and Chile. His late years were devoted to politics, public education, and the development of scientific and natural resource policies.

Social Context . Francisco P. Moreno was born in Buenos Aires, where he attended primary school. His English-Creole family—the Moreno Thwaites—were active in Buenos Aires commercial, financial, and insurance circles, as well as local politics. His father, Francisco Moreno (1819–1888), was one of the founding members of the influential Club del Progreso, secretary of the Buenos Aires Commerce Stock Market, director of the Buenos Aires Province Bank, member of the Argentine parliament (1854), and a member of the board of Argentine railroads. Francisco Pascasio and his brother did not attend university; rather they worked in the family’s insurance companies. The family also possessed sheep ranches in Buenos Aires, where the Moreno sons started their first natural history and archaeology collections, later stored in their private residence. Francisco Pascasio pursued this activity in his adult years. Moreno’s scientific self-education relied on handbooks for amateur scientific travelers, such as David Kaltbrunner’s Manuel du Voyageur published in Zürich in 1879. Thanks to his family connections— especially the friendship of his father with the minister of government of the Province of Buenos Aires—he became part of Argentine learned societies and political networks, where he negotiated state support for his scientific endeavors (Quesada, 1924–1925). He received an honorary doctorate from the University of Córdoba in 1877 and the Royal Geographical Society Founder’s Medal in 1907 for extensive explorations in the Patagonian Andes.

Anthropological Collections . The interest of young Moreno in amassing collections of natural history and archaeology drew the attention of prominent members of Buenos Aires political and intellectual circles. Becoming a member of the Sociedad Científica Argentina (Argentinean Scientific Society), established in 1872, he acted as director of the society’s museum (1875). Moreno was an extensive traveler: subsidized by his father and Sociedad Científica, in the years 1873–1877 he explored the valleys of Patagonia and the Argentinian Northwest, where he continued to collect natural history and archaeological objects, recording the natural resources of the regions. He pioneered in Argentina the use of both anthropometric instruments created by French anthropologists and Paul Broca’s instructions for the collection of calibrated anthropometric data.

In 1877 he presented his collections to the Province of Buenos Aires for the purpose of establishing an archaeological and anthropological museum and to be appointed as its perpetual director. The museum was inaugurated in August 1878. In the years that followed, Moreno’s rhetoric, little by little, became plagued by arguments that tied science to fatherland, and exploration traveling to the country’s rights over Patagonian territories. In 1879 he was appointed by the national government to lead the Southern Territories’ Exploring Commission, sent to the rivers Negro and Deseado, in the Patagonian plateau. Instead, he left the expedition to explore the Patagonian Andes, where he was taken prisoner by the Manzaneros’ chief Shaihueque.

The national government considered Moreno a deserter of a public mission. For that reason the minister of government suggested he leave Argentina to acquire real scientific education at the École d’Anthropologie in Paris, in order to become a professional scientist and to skip the dangers of enthusiasm and self education, elements that Moreno celebrated as the core of his scientific endeavors. In Paris he acted as an Argentine correspondent in the frame of the extensive international network articulated by Broca’s successor Paul Topinard for completing the collection of skeletons and crania of the École d’Anthropologie. In the late 1870s he contributed in providing evidence to the idea sustained in Paris that in the Americas, as in Europe, the native race was characterized by dolichocephalism, the brachycephalic race having arrived lately from the West.

La Plata Museum . Returning to Argentina in 1881, Moreno lobbied for the formation of a monumental national museum in Buenos Aires, which by different circumstances was established as a provincial institution in the city of La Plata, a short distance from Buenos Aires. The Museo de La Plata, Argentina, established in 1884, was the first in South America to have a building especially designed for the requirement of a museum. Devoted to the study of “American man” and evolution in South America, the museum envisioned a continental scope; to achieve its goals Moreno employed different strategies to collect objects that encompassed geology, zoology, paleontology, botanic, archaeology, and societies that, at the time, were perceived to be in the process of “extinction.” In the late 1870s and the 1880s several campaigns against native peoples from Patagonia and Chaco were carried out as governmental or private initiatives to erase “savagery” from lands to be included in the market economy. Either to preserve information about “vanishing races” or to record the changes experienced by native peoples in the process of becoming “civilized,” expeditions were dispatched to the localities where that process was taking place. As a result, the Museo de La Plata repositories continue to represent, in the early twenty-first century, one of the sources for researching the preindustrial period of native peoples inhabiting present-day Argentina and the Southern Cone (Sheets-Pyenson, 1988; Lopes and Podgorny, 2000). This position was not always assured: administrators of the budget of the Province of Buenos Aires were not always sympathetic to Moreno’s requirements, and he had to redefine the mission of the Museo de La Plata several times in order to justify its continuing existence.

Geological and Geographical Expeditions . During his expeditions of the late 1870s in the Southern Andes, Moreno explored Lake Nahuel Huapí and Río Santa Cruz. In doing so he named several lakes, such as the Lake San Martín.

A concern with the question of the distribution and origin of mammals as posed by Florentino Ameghino (1854?–1911) in the late 1880s had been responsible for shifting the interest of the museum’s expeditions toward Patagonia vertebrate paleontology. Naturalist travelers were dispatched to Chubut, Santa Cruz, Tierra del Fuego, and Isla de los Estados to collect fossil mammalians, reptiles, and birds. These collections represent an outstanding contribution to the knowledge of a previously unknown fossil fauna. Museo de La Plata employees also surveyed different regions of the country and published geologic profiles of the Argentine Andes. The research expeditions also revealed a great number of lower forms of vertebrates, including numerous marsupialia, some of which—according to Moreno—were closely related to the mammals of the Pleistocene fauna of Australia.

When Moreno was appointed in 1896 as geographical perito (expert) in the border conflict with Chile, following the policy settled in the Treaty of 1881, he explored the Andean regions with a team of geologists. Maps, photographs, plans, and geologic profiles complemented a complete geographical and physiographic description of Patagonia that resulted from the expedition under Moreno’s leadership. One of Moreno’s most important accomplishments was the observation of the fact that in the Patagonian Cordillera the interocean divortium aquarum in many places does not overlap with the highest peaks of the Andes. Moreno also recognized two glacial events in Patagonia (Camacho, 2000). During those years, he also propagated the idea of the ancient connection between the new uplifted lands of the southern part of the American continent and the other lands of the Southern Hemisphere—Africa and Australia (Camacho, 2000; Moreno, 1899). In 1899 Moreno proposed in London that experienced geologists from the Royal Geographical Society, the Royal Society, and the British Museum, with other scientific institutions, should carry out the systematic examination of the Argentine country in order to investigate south American fossiliferous strata (Moreno, 1899).

Scientific and Educational Policies . In 1906 Moreno resigned the directorship of the Museo de La Plata. He was elected national deputy for 1910–1913. In this capacity he proposed several projects, such as the construction of railroads in Patagonia (1910); the acquisition of Ameghino’s collections and library for the national museum (1911); the creation of a national scientific service (for topographic, hydrographical, geologic, and biological surveys, 1912); and the establishment of national parks (1912) (Ludueña, 1995). Moreno cooperated in the organization of the Congreso Científico Internacional Americano (Buenos Aires, 1910). He acted as vice president of National Council for Education, devoting much work to the protection of working-class children, and to the dismantling of the National Museum of Pedagogy, which was led by socialist teachers. Moreno was also active in the introduction to Argentina of the Boy Scouts movement in 1911. Most of Moreno’s articles were published in the Revista and Anales of the Museo de La Plata, publications he established in 1890.

Public Dimension of Moreno . Moreno died in Buenos Aires in November 1919, in a country divided by the so-called social issue (cuestión social) that generated the most diverse reactions among the Argentine upper class, such as the creation in January 1919 of Liga Patriótica, a permanent citywide militia that upheld “fatherland and order.” Moreno’s funeral was a public event attended by the president of the Liga Patriótica, who turned Moreno into a hero of the Argentine Right movements.

This adoption of Moreno by the Argentine Right was fulfilled in the 1930s and 1940s. Since then, Moreno has been presented to the public as the sentry of Patagonia. In this frame, those elements that during Moreno’s life were criticized by his contemporaries—enthusiasm, self-education, and amateurism—became the key elements for Moreno’s future biographers, such as Aquiles Ygobone (1953) and Carlos A. Bertomeu (1949). This kind of biography that emphasized the patriotic value of Moreno’s travels continues to be very popular even in the early twenty-first century. Instead of a reliable source for the historian of science they constitute a corpus that still requires further study to enable a full understanding of the history of ideology in Argentina.



“Cementerios y paraderos prehistóricos de la Patagonia.” Anales científicos argentinos 1 (1874): 2–13.

“Sur des restes d’industrie humaine préhistorique dans la République Argentine.” Compte-rendu du Congrès international d’anthropologie et d’archéologie préhistoriques. Stockholm: Norstedt & Söner, 1876.

El estudio del hombre Sud-Americano. Buenos Aires: La Nación, 1878.

Viaje a la Patagonia Austral, 1876–1877. Buenos Aires: La Nación, 1879.

“Voyages en Patagonie.” Bulletin de la Société de Géographie de l’Est 2 (1880): 534–571.

“Antropología y arqueología. Importancia del estudio de estas ciencias en la República Argentina.” Anales de la Sociedad Científica Argentina 12 (1881): 160–173, 193–207.

“Patagonia. Resto de un antiguo continente hoy sumergido. Contribuciones al estudio de las colecciones del Museo Antropológico y Arqueológico de Buenos Aires. Conferencia del 15 de Julio de 1882.” Anales de la Sociedad Científica Argentina 14 (1882): 97–137.

“El Museo de La Plata, rápida ojeada sobre su fundación y desarrollo.” Revista del Museo de La Plata 1 (1890): 1–30.

Esploración arqueológica de la Provincia de Catamarca: Primeros datos sobre su importancia y resultados. La Plata, Argentina: Tall. del Museo, 1891.

“Notas sobre algunas especies de un género aberrante de los Dasypoda (Eoceno de la Patagonia) conservadas en el Museo de La Plata.” Revista del Museo de La Plata 2 (1891): 57–63.

With Alcide Mercerat. “Catálogo de los Pájaros Fósiles de la República Argentina conservados en el. Museo de La Plata.” Anales del Museo de La Plata 1 (1891): 7–71.

“Reconocimiento de la región andina de la República Argentina. Apuntes preliminares sobre una excursión a los territorios del Neuquén, Río Negro, Chubut y Santa Cruz hecha por las secciones Topográfica y geológica bajo a dirección de F. P. Moreno, director del Museo.” Revista del Museo de La Plata 8 (1898): 99–372.

“Note on the Discovery of Miolania and of Glossotherium (Neomylodon) in Patagonia.” Nature 1556, no. 60 (1899): 395–398.


Bertomeu, Carlos A. El perito Moreno, centinela de la Patagonia: Estudio biográfico. Buenos Aires: El Ateneo, 1949.

Camacho, Horacio. “Francisco P. Moreno y su contribución al conocimiento geológico de la Patagonia.” Saber y Tiempo 9 (2000): 5–32.

“Embodied Institutions. La Plata Museum as Francisco P.Moreno’s Autobiography.” 34th Cimuset Conference in Brazil, Río de Janeiro, 2006. Río de Janeiro: Mast, 2007.

Hosne, Roberto. Francisco Moreno: Una herencia patagónica desperdiciada. Buenos Aires: Emecé, 2005.

Lopes, Maria Margaret, and Irina Podgorny. “The Shaping of Latin American Museums of Natural History.” Osiris 15 (2000): 108–118. An accessible overview of the history of the Museo de La Plata.

Ludueña, Felipe. Labor parlamentaria del Perito Doctor Francisco P. Moreno. Buenos Aires: Secretaría Parlamentaria. 1995.

Luna, Félix. Francisco P. Moreno. Buenos Aires: Planeta, 2001.

Moreno, Eduardo V. Reminiscencias de Francisco P. Moreno. Versión propia. 2nd ed. Buenos Aires: Editorial Universitaria de Buenos Aires, 1979.

_____. Perito Moreno’s Travel Journal: A Personal Reminiscence. Buenos Aires: El Elefante Blanco, 2002.

Moreno Terrero de Benites, Adela. Recuerdos de mi abuelo Francisco Pascasio Moreno: “El perito Moreno.” Buenos Aires: s.n., Tall. Gráf. La Tradición, 1988.

Podgorny, Irina. “Bones and Devices in the Constitution of Paleontology in Argentina at the End of the Nineteenth Century.” Science in Context 18, no. 2 (2005): 249–283. The most accessible discussion in English.

_____. “La derrota del genio. Cráneos y cerebros en la filogenia argentina.” Saber y Tiempo 5, no. 20 (2006): 63–106.

Quesada, Ernesto. “Doctor Francisco P. Moreno: 1852–1919. Fundador y primer director del Museo: Homenaje a su memoria en representación del Instituto Histórico y Geográfico del Brasil.” Revista del Museo de La Plata 28 (1924–1925): 9–16. The most reliable biographical note on F. P. Moreno.

Sheets-Pyenson, Susan. Cathedrals of Science: The Development of Colonial Natural History Museums during the Late Nineteenth Century. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1988. A good overview for the general reader.

Ygobone, Aquiles. Francisco P. Moreno. Arquetipo de argentinidad. Contribución al estudio e investigación histórica, geográfica, económica y social del País. Buenos Aires: Orientación Cultural, 1953.

Irina Podgorny

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Moreno, Francisco Pascasio

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