The year 2021 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Juan Vilanova y Piera, a Valencian scientist who is relatively unknown to the wider public. A versatile researcher and popularizer, graduate in Medicine, doctor in Sciences, professor of Geology and Paleontology, in later life Juan Vilanova enthusiastically took up the study of Prehistory, and became one of its most accredited figures during the second half of the nineteenth century.
Vilanova was the prestigious academic who defended the antiquity of the paintings of Altamira and who insisted that the Bronze Age had been preceded by a Copper Age. He was the author of the first Spanish study to record both the knowledge accumulating from studies of Prehistory and the Spanish archaeological sites that were known at that time. He also prospected numerous sites in the province of Valencia, and published the first descriptions of them.
The exhibition Vilanova y Piera: the Road to Prehistory is divided into four parts. The first, Europe under construction, in the patio leading to room I, provides a contextualization of the nineteenth century in which Vilanova lived (1821-1893) – a period of vast political, social, scientific, industrial and economic changes. The second, Vilanova y Piera, in room 1, covers both his personal and professional life and the process in which Prehistory developed from Geology. After a short transition, in which visitors are invited to reflect on the concept of Prehistory, the third part, The Road to Prehistory, focuses on two fundamental themes that characterized Vilanova’s career: his participation at international conferences on Prehistory, and his awareness of the importance of dissemination. After a section on his links with other researchers, the final part, Vilanova’s Legacy, examines two interrelated aspects: the Documentary and Bibliographical Collection on which the exhibition is based, and Vilanova's most important contributions to Prehistory.
The exhibition was made possible thanks to the generous donation by Juan Masiá Vilanova and his granddaughter Natalia Mansilla Masiá, comprising documentation and other scientific and personal materials that belonged to Juan Vilanova y Piera. These are now kept in the Library of the Valencia Museum of Prehistory.