The Smithsonian recently revamped its exhibit on human evolution, and the brand new Hall of Human Origins is definitely worth seeing. Unlike exhibits from the Small era, there is no equivocation here: humans evolved over millions of years from primates. Period. There’s no ambiguity, no attempt to please theopolitical conservatives. It’s also very aesthetically pleasing–the bronze statues of various hominid ancestors are amazing. If the rest of the planned renovations hit this mark, the Smithsonian will look amazing in a few years.
The exhibit also is pitched at different levels, and virtually everyone, perhaps other than hominid evolution experts, will learn something. There’s interactive displays that examine different hypotheses of hominid phylogeny (evolutionary history), and there are also some good tactile displays for children.
Most importantly, the display subtly illustrates the scientific method by demonstrating how scientists reach the conclusions they have. Likewise, where there isn’t a consensus (e.g., hominid phylogeny), those are discussed–and it’s explicitly stated that scientists do disagree about the particulars.
Finally, there’s fun stuff–there’s no reason why it should be boring. Using computer imaging, you have your photo modified to look like one of our human ancestors. (I’m now convinced that the Mad Biologist’s Butt Ugly Hypothesis of Hominid Extinction explains why various hominid groups went extinct…). And a couple of the bronze replicas of hominid ancestors are interactive: you can sit next to one, such that it looks like he’s offering you food.
Finally, the ‘wall of skulls’ not only gives you a good perspective on hominid variation, but it reinforces the overwhelming evidence for hominid evolution, without being heavy-handed.
Overall, this is exceptionally well done.