Hall of Human Origins Unlocks Mankind's Secrets

Article excerpt

The Hall of Human Origins at New York's American Museum of Natural History presents the remarkable history of human evolution from our earliest ancestors millions of years ago to modern Homo sapiens, exploring the most profound mysteries of humankind: where we came from; what makes us human; and what lies ahead for our species. The exhibition combines a wealth of mutually reinforcing evidence from two seemingly disparate fields of science--the fossil record and genomic data--to present a sweeping and comprehensive story of humanity's origins and progress. Due to the advent of genomics over the past decade and recent advances in paleontology, such an examination of the nature of humanity now is possible.

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This permanent exhibition-the successor to the Hall of Human Biology and Evolution--includes more than 200 casts of the most remarkable hominid fossils and artifacts ever displayed that document how modern humans evolved over millions of years from earlier species, and new DNA evidence which shows how closely related we are to each other and to the modern-day descendents of our primate ancestors. With the help of a vast array of exhibition techniques and technology, the Hall of Human Origins brings to life the latest research by scientists from around the world.

"While people have long pondered the nature of what it means to be human, never before have we been so well equipped to explore this profound and timeless question," says Ellen V. Futter, president of the American Museum of Natural History. "[This exhibition] bridges the exhilarating and vibrant sciences of fossils and genes to tell one of the most compelling stories ever--that of humanity...."

The exhibit demonstrates clearly that modern humans are primates and that we have evolved from earlier humanlike species that first emerged in Africa some 6,000,000 to 7,000,000 years ago. Starting about 2,000,000 years ago, our ancient relatives moved out of Africa in multiple waves of migrations across Asia, Europe, and, much later, North America. DNA evidence confirms what comparative anatomy predicts: that our closest living relatives are the bonobos and chimpanzees. In fact, we share 98.8% of our genetic material with them, making humans more closely related to chimpanzees than chimpanzees are to gorillas.

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Entering the Hall, visitors are greeted by an arresting gateway icon: skeletons of a chimpanzee, a reconstructed Neanderthal, and a modern human posed against an eye-catching animated backdrop showing cells, chromosomes, and three-dimensional bone scans from humans and our closest relatives. …