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March 10th, 2010

INSTAAR helps develop new permanent human evolution exhibit at Smithsonian

The Kostenki perforated shell ornament is one of the oldest known ornaments found from northern Eurasia. Photo by John Hoffecker.

INSTAAR will be officially acknowledged in a new permanent human evolution exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History: the David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, scheduled to open in March 2010. The Smithsonian consulted with INSTAAR Fellow John Hoffecker during the development of the exhibit, primarily with regard to the spread of anatomically modern humans into Eastern Europe roughly 50,000 years ago. Hoffecker provided the Smithsonian with high-resolution images of a perforated shell ornament that was recovered from Kostenki in Russia. This ornament is the earliest known from Eastern Europe and one of the oldest known in northern Eurasia. It was excavated from below the CI Y5 volcanic tephra (dated to ca. 40,000 years ago) at Kostenki and reported in the journal Science in January 2007. The new exhibit will display a model of this valuable artifact; the original will remain in St-Peterburg. INSTAAR's full name will appear on a panel in the exhibit and both INSTAAR and Hoffecker will be acknowledged on the upcoming website.

The new exhibition is scheduled to coincide with the one hundredth anniversary of the opening of the Natural History building. The 15,000 square-foot exhibition tells the story of human evolution over six million years in response to a changing world. Designed to capture visitors’ imaginations, the exhibit invites visitors to contemplate the question “What does it mean to be human?” Stories come to life through lifelike models of our ancestors, multimedia theaters, immersive environments, interactive devices and close examination of the fossil record. Together, these elements convey the exhibition’s main message: Human beings evolved over millions of years in response to a changing world.