The museum orbited the dead world.
It was a reliquary of sorts, an anthropological institute dedicated to preserving and protecting the artifacts of a culture which had destroyed itself. Though it was located in a far region of one of the spiral arms, the museum still attracted visitors.
It was a modern facility, displaying the latest research and updated frequently with new discoveries. Exhibits were captioned in each of the twelve prime galactic languages, and docent computers offered audio, visual, and neural translation to any of twelve thousand other tongues, including the choral song-sculptures of the Cho’qxua’nua.
The planet below was not truly dead, not yet, though it was beyond the point of saving. The sapient species which had inhabited it had wrecked too much damage, first upon their habitat and then upon themselves, for it to ever be salvaged.
A new exhibit in the Hall of Ethnolinguistics offered evidence for a new theory as to why they had suffered such a catastrophic collapse. In their earliest state, the dominant race of hominids had begun painting their cave walls with basic pictograms. As their society developed, these images grew in complexity, and it wasn’t long – in the anthropological sense – before these images became associated with vocal sounds, and the rudiments of language were born.
As the hominids spread, and evolved, their languages did as well, and they developed the means with which to engage in nuanced, abstract concepts. As speech was refined, so to was thought.
And then, at what should have been the last growth spurt of their culture, just before they broke free of their solar system and joined galactic society, they backslid. The reasons why are still debated, but the cause remains undisputed: overnight, they rejected speech and writing for a new version of those crude pictograms, this time delivered via the electronic devices the complex thought and mathematics their higher language had allowed them to create.
The results were rapid: in rejecting nuanced communication, they rejected that which allowed them to empathize and connect with one another, first as groups, and then as individuals. The backslide proved ultimately fatal, for them as a species and their planet as an ecosystem.
So what could have been a thriving culture now remains nothing but a curiosity preserved in a museum, and a lesson for others to study.