Origins the Field Exhibit Excavates the Facts on Human Evolution

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Byline: Virginia Kenyon

"Who are we and where do we come from?" The Field Museum may have the answer in a new exhibit, "Origins," which takes a look back in time at human evolution from five million years ago to present day.

The exhibit is part of Project Millennium, a cultural and learning initiative taking place in Illinois during 1999.

Most of the fossils and artifacts in "Origins" are casts of the originals. Originals are extremely rare and need to be preserved.

The exhibit, which is divided into eight stations, takes a look at how human evolution has changed through three factors: environment, technology and language.

Coincidentally, humans today are still adapting to these three factors.

Matt Matcuk, exhibit developer, says that humans today "still use technology and language to respond to environmental challenges."

So, with that, we begin the story five million years ago, with our first upright, walking ancestors, known as hominids.

A diagram on display when you walk through the door lists the different species on a timeline, beginning five million years ago. What visitors need to notice about this diagram is that the path of evolution is not a straight one. Several twists and turns have been taken along the way. In fact, at some points, two different species coexisted in different parts of the world.

The first fossil cast you'll encounter in the exhibit is "Lucy." "Lucy," unearthed in 1974, is from the human species Australopithecus afarensis and lived in Africa 3.2 million years ago. The discovery was important, because at that time it was the most complete skeleton of that species to be uncovered.

Scientists have found no evidence of speech or tools used by her species. That doesn't mean they didn't communicate or use tools. They could have used gestures to communicate and tools made of wood that would not last through time.

Homo habilis came on the scene two million years ago. What's important about this species is that we begin to see technology playing a role in their existence. A diorama of that time depicts them in East Africa using stone tools to get at the meat and marrow of animal carcasses. You'll see several utensils that were used for chopping, scraping and cracking by this species.

Another fossil cast on display is Turkana Boy. The discovery of Turkana Boy, an Early Homo erectus that lived 1.6 million years ago, is important for two reasons. First, the fossil represents a juvenile who was just at the point of development between child and adult at the time of his death. Second, his skeleton is the first to closely resemble ours.

This species shows signs of adapting to its environment with longer limbs, larger bodies and more powerful brains. …