, Volume 5, Issue 1, pp 4-8
Date: 31 Mar 2012

Up from the Ape: the Spitzer Hall of Human Origins at the American Museum of Natural History

Abstract

The American Museum of Natural History in New York has a rich history of explaining evolution through its displays and educational programs. For much of this history, there has been a permanent hall dedicated to human evolution and its related disciplines. Different versions of these halls have informed tens of millions of visitors, and today’s offering is one of the world’s newest, opened in 2007 and named the Anne and Bernard Spitzer Hall of Human Origins. The hall’s design is radical in that it starts by giving molecular genetics and the fossil record equal billing and thus provides the visitor with two independent but highly complementary lines of evidence for our own evolution. Other parts of the hall are innovative in that they stress taxonomic diversity in the fossil record as much as the more traditional chronological “story” of human evolution that is usually found in museum exhibits. The hall is also unique in that it incorporates a fully operational teaching laboratory within its architectural footprint, which provides educators with the chance to seamlessly integrate hands-on lab sessions and the surrounding exhibits as teaching aids.