The National Museum of Archaeology (Portuguese: Museu Nacional de Arqueologia) is the largest archaeological museum in Portugal and one of the most important museums devoted to ancient art found in the Iberian Peninsula. Located in Lisbon, the museum was founded in 1893 by the archaeologist José Leite de Vasconcelos. The museum is located in the western wing of the Jeronimos Monastery where the monks had their dormitory. The museum is built in the Neo-Manueline style and was officially opened in 1906.
The museum is the result of José Leite de Vasconcelos's efforts to create an archaeological museum dedicated to the history of Portuguese man. With the support of the politician Bernardino Machado, a legal decree for the creation of a National Ethnographic Museum was established on 20 December 1893. The museum is the most important centre for archaeological research in Portugal. The museum has received the international Genio Protector da Colonia Augusta Emerita prize, awarded by the Foundation for Roman Studies and the Friends of the National Museum of Roman Art in Mérida, Spain.
The museum's archive consists of Leite de Vasocnelos's initial collection and others: either donated to the state, incorporated from other museums or the result of the extensive archaeological explorations carried out by the museum and its staff. The museum's archive boasts items from over 3,200 archaeological sites and covers over 500,000 years of the Iberian Peninsula’s history. It has the biggest collection of Roman mosaics in Portugal and an important collection of Portuguese and African ethnography. The museum's archive is available for consultation via MatrizNet.
The main nucleus of the collection consists of ancient jewelry kept in the Treasures exhibition room, it is one of the most important collections of its kind in the Iberian Peninsula.
Of equal importance are the museum's collections of epigraphy, of which the collection from the Sanctuary of S. Miguel da Mota (from the Endovelicus period) is of particular importance, as are its Roman mosaics, a few of which are National Treasures of Portugal.
The museum's metalwork collection is representative of the mineral and metallurgical history of the Iberian Peninsula, which includes tools created in copper from the Chalcolithic period (middle of the 3rd century BC). Also in its collection are the oldest iron tools found in Portugal found in tombs located in the Alentejo region dating to the first Iron Age (7th–6th century BC). Of particular importance are a group of artefacts named the "Atlantic bronzes" and farming tools from the Roman Period.
Torc, Second Iron Age, Castro Culture, northeastern Iberian Peninsula
The museum also has the largest collection of Classical sculpture in Portugal. From this period, items of particular technical and stylistic value are the toga-draped statues from Mertola, Apollo from the Herdade do Álamo (Alcoutim) and the sarcophagi from Tróia and Castanheira do Ribatejo. Of note is the collection found in the Sanctuary of S. Miguel da Mota, which is the largest collection of its kind sculpted in Vila Viçosa / Estremoz type marble. The latter collection was found extensively vandalised; this is presumed to be the result of iconoclasm carried out by early Christian communities.
Emblematic of the Celtic period in North-eastern Portugal are the monumental granite statues representing princes or noblepeople, often referred to as the "Gallecian Warriors" which guard the museum's entrance. The museum has the largest and most significant collection of Gallecian sculpture in the Iberian Peninsula. Also in this collection are the "Verraco" zoomorphic sculptures, probably created for totemic purposes.
A statue of a Gallaecian warrior, two of which mark the entrance to the museum, Castro Culture, 1st century AD
Even though many Roman mosaics have been found in Portugal, this collection cannot be considered of international importance, especially when compared to collections in neighbouring Spain and Northern Africa. Nevertheless, within this collection, the most important items are mosaics from the Roman Villas of Torre da Palma, Santa Vitória do Ameixal, Milreu and Montinho das Laranjeiras. The most common themes found in these mosaics come from classical mythology: the journey of Odysseus, Orpheus and the labours of Hercules. Almost all the mosaics date to the 3rd century BC.