On 14 October 2009, the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) announced the upcoming opening of a new Hall of Human Origins. The Hall, which will be dedicated to the discovery and understanding of human origins, is scheduled to open on 17 March 2010, a date that marks the 100-year anniversary of the museum’s opening. Along with the new Hall, the Smithsonian will launch a web site that will include a complete reproduction of the physical exhibition plus additional virtual interactive features.

The Hall is based on research findings from a broad initiative within the museum, “Human Origins: What Does It Mean to Be Human?” This initiative tells the story of human evolution over 6 million years, and is based on years of ongoing research programs sponsored by more than 50 U.S. and international scientific research and education organizations, including the National Academy of Sciences, the National Museum of Kenya, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. More than 70 distinguished scientists and educators are collaborating with the initiative’s research, education and outreach programs.

Exhibitions will include 75 cast reproductions of human and hominid skulls, a reconstructed face of Sahelanthropus (one of the oldest known hominids), an exhibit on the human family tree, a bone bed displaying different kinds of fossil evidence, and a time tunnel showing different environments over the millennia. It will also contain fossils of early apes and humans, including fossil skulls from France’s renowned La Ferrassie cave, and an original Neanderthal skeleton from the Shanidar Cave in Iraq. The scientific conclusions about the newly-discovered Ardi will be in a section that includes the latest news and discoveries.

To assist with public engagement about the exhibition and to support dialogue about science and religion, a social impacts committee has been assembled. The committee is comprised of a diverse group of members from the science and religious communities. One upcoming public engagement event will be the 29 October 2009 premiere of a PBS NOVA three-part series entitled “Becoming Human: Unearthing Our Earliest Ancestors,” hosted at the NMNH.

More information about Smithsonian’s human origins initiative is available at http://humanorigins.si.edu/.


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