Human Journey

Native American Exhibit Opens in Italy

Indicating just how richly layered the history of human culture is, a new exhibit of artifacts and information about Native Americans of the Great Plains has opened up, not in some midwestern U.S. metropolis, but in the small medieval Italian city of Pinerolo, in the northwest, between Turin and the border with France.

The creators of the exhibit also illustrate this diversity. Dario Seglie is a specialist in rock art, and the Director of CeSMAP, the Study Centre and Museum of Prehistoric Art in Pinerolo. Enrico Comba is a cultural anthropologist at Torino University, and vice Director of the Museum of Pinerolo, focusing on Native American religions and mythological traditions.

These two Italian researchers with a passion for Native American history and culture answered a few questions I had for them about the exhibit. In the end, their enthusiasm and ambition are perhaps as inspiring as the exhibit itself.

(Some of their answers have been edited for clarity.)


This bison on display in the church of St. Augustine in Pinerolo is a rare historic male sample in the zoological collections of the Torino Natural History Museum (from 1825). "Tatanka" is a sacred animal for the Native American Indians. (Photo Dario Seglie, CeSMAP, Museum of Pinerolo)


What first inspired you to take an interest in Native American history and culture?

Enrico has devoted the last twenty-five years to the study of Native American Cultures, especially in the Plains and Midwest areas. He has conducted field trips and researches in Wisconsin, Michigan, South Dakota and Montana.

In 1999, Dario and Enrico participated as chairs at the International Federation of Rock Art Organizations (IFRAO) International Congress, held in Ripon, Wisconsin, where they became acquainted with North American rock art research and its relationships with Native American historical cultures. Here they established many forms of collaboration with American scholars in various fields.

That was at the origin of the idea to make up this exhibit.


What are some of the highlights of the exhibit for you?

The main highlights of the “THE NATIVE AMERICAN UNIVERSE” exhibit are the following:

  • the importance of the buffalo as the basis of subsistence for the peoples of the Plains
  • the curious evolutionary history of the horse, which was born in America, migrated in the Old World while it was extinguished in its homeland, and successively was reintroduced by the Spanish conquerors, spread in the grasslands of North America, and was adopted by the natives who quickly became equestrian hunters and warriors
  • the relationship between animals and humans in the cultural universe of the natives, which was characterized by a relationship between human and other-than-human persons, by respect and spiritual reverence
  • the fact that Plains area rock art sites viewed as sacred places are still visited sometimes by the natives for spiritual practices
  • the cosmology of the Plains Indians, which was projected on the landscape, so that prominent parts of it, like the Black Hills, Devils Tower, Bear Butte, were seen as a mirror image of stars and constellations in the night sky (this section of the exhibit is placed in the 17th-century St. Augustin Church in the historic center of Pinerolo)
  • the history of the conflict between Plains warriors and the military cavalry of US Army, often called the “Indian Wars” (this section of the Exhibit is placed in the military National Museum of Cavalry in the city of Pinerolo)
  • an understanding of the “Imaginary Indian”, the image of the Native American as it was created by literature (e. g. the novelist Emilio Salgàri 1862-1911), the comics, the motion pictures, and other productions of popular culture (this part of the exhibit is placed in the central Public Library of the city of Pinerolo)


(Photo Dario Seglie, CeSMAP Archive, Museum of Pinerolo)
In this showcase at the Public Library, a rare pamphlet from the Buffalo Bill Wild West Show in Italy (1906) is displayed. (Photo Dario Seglie, CeSMAP Archive, Museum of Pinerolo)



What do you hope people will learn by visiting the exhibit?

We expect first of all that people could learn something about cultures which are far away, little-known, and possibly perceived in a distorted way due to the stereotyped images that popular cultures has built over them.

We then hope people can take a deeper look into another culture’s way of  seeing the world, nature, animals, landscape–a way that can be appealing but that can also be an admonishment for our own future.

There will be also didactic activities with local schools, for guided visits, laboratories, teaching lessons, that would stimulate the interest and respect for cultures different from our own. And this message is probably the most important–the central core of the Pinerolo Exhibit “THE NATIVE AMERICAN UNIVERSE”.


“THE NATIVE AMERICAN UNIVERSE” opened December 3, 2011 and has been extended to remain open in 2013. For more information visit or email

[Updated 1/10/2013]


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Andrew Howley is a longtime contributor to the National Geographic blog, with a particular focus on archaeology and paleoanthropology generally, and ancient rock art in particular. In 2018 he became Communications Director at Adventure Scientists, founded by Nat Geo Explorer Gregg Treinish. Over 11 years at the National Geographic Society, Andrew worked in various ways to share the stories of NG explorers and grantees online. He also produced the Home Page of for several years, and helped manage the Society's Facebook page during its breakout year of 2010. He studied Anthropology with a focus on Archaeology from the College of William & Mary in Virginia. He has covered expeditions with NG Explorers-in-Residence Mike Fay, Enric Sala, and Lee Berger. His personal interests include painting, running, and reading about history. You can follow him on Twitter @anderhowl and on Instagram @andrewjhowley.
  • WF Posey

    Just what Italy needs, more Plains culture. There are well over 500 tribal cultures in North America, yet the media obsesses over the Plains culture to the absolute exclusion of all others. This is not to be commended. It is in fact rather tragic as these tribes today are the most destructive and problem-plagued of all the tribes. Interesting, no doubt, but flawed. I am an American Indian who lives in Italy and see with my own experience that most Italians know ONLY about Plains tribes.

  • Elke

    Please- can you change the diplay of the headdress- it really looks awfull to see a turned-arround headdress! Thanks
    The stuff looks like made by European-hobbypeople.
    Just wondering ;o)
    Wish you a successfull exhibition.
    Greetings from Germany


    CONGRATULATIONS TO THE newspaper articles

  • Herman Bender

    I fully understand the comment about the obsession with the Plains culture and while there for the grand opening and keynote, fully commented on the fact that the idea or image of the Plains Indian on horseback was a ‘blip on the radar screen’ and mostly a product of Hollywood and the mass media. Efforts were also made and expressed that what the average European, not just the Italians see or are fed is the “west of the imagination’. Furthermore, during my guest lectures, there was no sugar-coating put on the modern problems or the racism that can be and is experienced. The other comments I heard were about the Navajo who also in no way represent the Native American tribal experience in the vastness of North America. When I come back to Italy in May, 2012, items which will be brought and included in the exhibit are from the Woodland tribes with an emphasis on how ancient the culture in total really is. It please me to suggest suggest that Mr. Posey visit Pinerolo, the exhibit and engage in conversation with Dario Seglie and Enrico Comba on the intent of the exhibit and problems involved with mounting something like this ‘from a distance’ so-to-speak.


    Dario Today thanks to the new technologies we are abble to look further ….and then take the best from the others !! So we must be gatheres and hunters like our ancestors ..then I like what should be the credo of each day !!!
    “We then hope people can take a deeper look into another culture’s way of seeing the world, nature, animals, landscape–a way that can be appealing but that can also be an admonishment for our own future.”


    Dario Today thanks to the new technologies we are abble to look further ….and then take the best from the others !! So we must be gatheres and hunters like our ancestors ..then I like what should be the credo of each day !!!
    “We then hope people can take a deeper look …………..”

  • Dario Seglie

    Dear Elke,
    thanks for your solicitation to change the position of the war-bonnet; in fact now the photo is changed -thanks to the Andrew Howley willingness – with a correct position of the find in the showcase of the Cavalry National Museum, Pinerolo, Italy, one of the three venues of the international Native Americans Exhibit, open till September 2012.

  • Dario SEGLIE

    Dear Andrew,

    I have noted some of new in your face, probably an effect of the Bounty Mutineers NG Mission !

    Seriously, I’m very happy to inform all people of this website that the Exhibit on “The Universe of the Native Americans” go on very well; from the opening (3th Dec. 2011) till now we have registered over 10,000 visitors (also many young and teenagers). This in the symptom of the interest for the multicultural aspect in the Mankind and the need of liberty and equality for all man in the world.

  • Dario SEGLIE

    Dario Seglie
    CeSMAP and Exhibit Director, Pinerolo, Italy

    Dear Andrew,
    we are happy to inform the NG people that the Exhibit on “The Universe of the Native Americans”, CeSMAP, Pinerolo, Italy, go on very well, and for this motif, the period of opening is prolonged till 30th December 2012.
    Kind regards,

  • Dario Seglie

    To: Andrew Howley – NG
    Dear Andrew,
    many thanks to you and to NG website: the exhibit is again prolonged for a great request of the public (now we have 16.000 visitors !).
    This success is also in correlation with your presentation on line.
    My best happy new year 2013 to you and to the people of the NG.
    Kind regards,
    Dario Seglie
    CeSMAP Director

  • Andrew Howley

    Congratulations, Dario! It’s great to see such cross-cultural enthusiasm!

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