Human Origins: Designing the Exhibition

The exhibition, or the
show that we’re putting on here at the Smithsonian on Human
Origins is an idea that goes back in my mind at
least twenty years. The vision of presenting to
the public the artifacts and of course the fossil
evidence of how we became human was very important
to me when I joined the Smithsonian as a
member of staff more than twenty years ago. But it takes more
than one person’s vision. It takes a whole
group of people to put an exhibit together. Designers and people who can
write the script and most of all it includes
lot of partners, international partners,
who are able to make available to us part of the natural
heritage of their countries, the fossils and
the stone tools, and of course when those
objects cannot leave those countries because we
have a longterm exhibit here, they are able to provide
to us the exact replicas of those objects. So what are exhibit does is
that it does something that no other exhibit
in the world does. It’s not just about the
discovery of a particular fossil human. It’s not just about
the debates that rage in scientific circles about
our family tree and who was related to whom of the early
species of fossil humans. Rather it’s about
the emergence of human characteristics. The things that define
every single human being on earth today, and it allows people
the chance to explore the antiquity of walking
upright on two legs. When we started making
tools and the changes in technology over time, when our brains became large, the origins of art, and our ability to use
symbols and language, and so it allows the
visitor to explore that deep antiquity and to
see that everything didn’t happen all at once, but rather
things occurred over a six million year
period in accumulating the characteristics of
what it means to be a human being today. In addition to that,
we have a very important theme of climate change, of how early
humans were responding to the dynamic environments of
earth’s climate history over the past six million years. So this idea of bringing
these two vibrant areas of scientific discovery:
paleo-climate change –ancient climate change–
and human origins, is I think a really
fascinating way, a new way, to present the
subject to our public.

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