New: Hall of Human Origins

The Smithsonian has opened a new hall that answers the question, “What does it mean to be human?”:

Five fossil human skulls show how the shape of the face and braincase of early humans changed over the past 2.5 million years. (from left to right: Australopithecus africanus, 2.5 million years old; Homo rudolfensis, 1.9 million years old; Homo erectus, ~ 1 million years old; Homo heidelbergensis, ~350,000 years old; Homo sapiens, ~ 4,800 years old) Photo Credit: Chip Clark, Jim DiLoreto, & Don Hurlbert, Smithsonian Institution

The past decade has seen astonishing discoveries about human origins that captivate the imagination. We walk on two legs, make tools, and have large brains. We solve complex problems and communicate through language and art. We express our feelings and our spirituality. How did we acquire these extraordinary qualities? Are we still evolving or are we ‘it’, the endpoint of the evolutionary story?

These questions excite the deepest levels of human curiosity about our own identity and origins, and help shape one of the most awe-inspiring areas of scientific inquiry. ‘What does it mean to be human?’ – the theme of the Human Origins Initiative of the Smithsonian Institution – reflects one of humanity’s most profound quests. The initiative’s goal is to explore the universal human story at its broadest time scale. It seeks to stimulate new research findings that deepen an understanding of what makes our species unique and how we came to be.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History is committed to expanding the public understanding of human evolution:

  • An unforgettable museum experience presents the epic story of human ancestry.
  • Pioneering research investigates fundamental questions about our evolutionary past, including the roots of human adaptability.
  • Innovative educational programs meet the critical need for expanding public knowledge of scientific research and evolution.

Visit What does it mean to be human? on the Web.

Teachers? Don’t miss the educational resources page, with lesson plans.

N.B. …and see this commentary in the New York Times

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