Smithsonian Hall of Human Origins: Just Go

By Carl Zimmer | May 15, 2010 10:27 pm

diarama440Having come down to Washington this weekend to give a talk, I knew I had to get over to the Smithsonian’s new Hall of Human Origins. The Smithsonian’s Briana Pobiner was kind enough to take me around and tell me about what went into its creation. I suppose I could pretend to be a professional museum reviewer and present a lengthy description of the hall, tell you what I liked, give the obligatory “But nothing is ever perfect,” indulge in some musings on the state of museumology, and on and on.

But I’m the sort of person who stops reading a review of a movie or a book as soon as I realize that it sounds fantastic. I don’t want to diminish the experience with rehashed details. So let me just say that if you find yourself on the Mall, just go. It’s got a collection of casts and original fossils on a scale I’ve never seen before. It’s got lifelike sculptures by John Gurche that helped me envision hominids more clearly than ever before. It’s got elegant computer interfaces and movies. It’s got casts of tiny 70,000-year-old snail shells pierced through to serve as jewelry. I’ll shut up now. Just go.

(The assortment of pictures here are from Chip Clark [the really good ones] and me and my Iphone [the really blurry ones])

Lucy220australopithecus_afarensis220skull wall440

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Evolution, The Tangled Bank

Comments (8)

  1. I’m amazed some of the yahoos in Congress didn’t demand a Hall of Creationism to go with it.

  2. Carl, what would you say was the exhibit’s take-home message about climate change?

    [CZ: I can't give a definitive summary, because there was too much stuff to take in deeply in one visit. But the climate theme is strong throughout, with human evolution tied to changes in the climate. At the end of the exhibit, when it turns to the future of humanity, there are charts showing increased carbon dioxide concentrations and a discussion of the changes that will bring to the climate. The irony that the man who gave the hall his name has also funded global-warming denialists is rich and thick.]

  3. Rex Lewis Field

    I have been to Smithsonian exhibits and museums several times, loving every moment and each tiny step (walking upright) through those halls (Especially the Natural History and Air and Science). I am not an evolutionist (3.1 billion rolls of the dice does not translate into billions of deoxy-ribonucleic acid “recombinations”… worse than Las Vegas odds). However, I am fascinated with the theories and speculations about the fossil discoveries that “scientists” submit as examples of of either our genus, predecessors, or distant antecedents. (I also own all of George Lucas’ films, love Wookies and Jabba the Hut… went to see Lucy in Houston…). Hence, even as a Christian delightfully comfortable in God’s caress, knowing His miraculous grace to create me (I’m not even getting into His will that I should spell miraculous and conceive the meaning), I will nonetheless find a way to get to Washington, and like Lot of Old wander through Sodom once more on my way to the Museums and their wonderful exhibits. I will endure the stench wafting from the White House and the slime-filled Congress, ignore the steaming cauldron of greasy, grimy oligarchs that wallow in orgy in that earth-worshiping city, and enjoy my visit with placid acceptance that all is God’s will.

  4. Rex Lewis Field

    Ah! You removed my Christian response. The way of the narrow minded, and of course I won my bet that you would. I’ll still read your stuff and make another visit to Washington, weathering the withering insults all the while. Ciao.

    [CZ: Rex, comments are automatically held for moderation. You lost your bet.]

  5. fasteddie

    I’m grateful Rex plays for the other team.

  6. Anna Haynes

    Re CZ’s response to me#2:

    > “At the end of the exhibit, when it turns to the future of humanity, there are charts showing increased carbon dioxide concentrations and a discussion of the changes that will bring to the climate.”

    A discussion of the changes that [increased CO2] will bring to the climate? as in, the likely range of temp. increase if we don’t mitigate? I was there last month, & I don’t remember mention of anything like this:
    http://temagami.tosm.ttu.edu/khayhoe/climate_slides/images/Slide50.jpg

    (When I was there, in the “humans change the world” nook, the 2 panels adjacent to the “CO2 concentration” chart (only the last inch or two of which showed the present-day upward CO2 shoot – were displays of “you are an ecosystem” and a pure “art” one; perhaps these two panels have been replaced? If you’ve got photos of the “discussion” part, I’d love to see what it said.)

    (I’d especially be interested to know if it lays out what our options are, for addressing climate change.)

  7. Curt, I love ya. I’m a video-game fanatic as well as a guy who appreciates honesty and loyalty. And sports stars who stay “real”.

  8. Michel

    What a coincidence, I went there last sunday. Indeed one of the best expositions on this matter ever. Tons of originals and beautiful casts, and that skull wall was mightily impressive. The lifelike sculptures were mesmerizing and eerily real. I spent the whole day at the Natural History Museum (first time I went there, first time in Washington) and a big part of that day was at this expo. Great job!

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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

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