Today in Smithsonian History: May 18, 1979
A group of Smithsonian staff members pose for a photograph in the “Dynamics of Evolution” exhibition next to the “People Tower” and the “Dog Tower. The “People Tower” is covered with more than 100 larger than life-size photos of faces showing genetic traits, such as blue or brown eyes, or black or blond hair. The “Dog Tower” illustrates how “artificial” selection by human beings has influenced an animal’s evolutionary history.
May 18, 1979 Dynamics of Evolution, the first exhibit hall in any American science museum to explain the basic steps of evolution, opens as a permanent installation in the National Museum of Natural History. The exhibit is challenged by lawsuits from creationists but all rulings support the Smithsonian’s right to display the exhibit.
The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins opened at the Natural history Museum in 2010. “What Does it Mean to be Human?” focuses on the story of human origins and probes the ecological and genetic connections that human beings have had with the natural world over time. It examines the shared framework of humankind—the biological and cultural history we all share—as well as the differences that exist and preoccupy us today.
“Paleo-artist” John Gurche recreates the faces of our earliest ancestors. In order to create these sculptures, Gurche dissected the heads of modern humans and apes, mapping patterns of soft tissue and bone. He used this information to fill out the features of fossil skulls. Each sculpture starts with the cast of a fossilized skull; Gurche then adds layers of clay muscle, fat and skin. Seven of his finished hominid busts are featured at the National Museum of Natural History’s David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins. They are perhaps the best-researched renderings of their kind. (Courtesy of John Gurche)
The sculpture by “paleo artist” John Gurche is of famed fossil Lucy’s species, Australopithecus afarensis, which walked the earth roughly three million years ago. “They still have small brains, ape-sized, very projecting faces, very flat noses,” Gurche notes. But below the neck, A. afarensis exhibited some human traits and could walk on two feet. Gurche molded the sculpture’s eyes himself, eschewing pre-fabricated versions. “If you want the eyes to be the window to the soul,” Gurche says, “you have to make them with some depth.” (Courtesy John Gurche)
Posted: 18 May 2015