Posts Tagged ‘celebrate smithsonian’

Human Origins: Misconceptions about Evolution

Monday, June 7th, 2010
Starting with a cast skull, artist John Gurche builds layers of muscle, fat, and skin to create hyper-realistic busts of human ancestors featured in the new David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. Pictured: Homo neanderthalensis

Starting with a cast skull, artist John Gurche builds layers of muscle, fat, and skin to create hyper-realistic busts of human ancestors featured in the new David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. Pictured: Homo neanderthalensis

Here at the Smithsonian, we’ve been very excited about our new Human Origins exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History. The exhibit mixes research, technology, and new developments in the field of anthropology in a way that isn’t intimidating, even though the idea of humans being around millions of years ago can seem overwhelming. With current research being done places such as Kenya and China, and discoveries that have been made in Iraq and Indonesia, evidence of our origins span the globe.

Yet, there are some common misconceptions that have been made about evolution that are worth clarifying. For example, it is commonly believed that evolution is about progress and that each living thing is changing for the better. The reality is that some organisms don’t change over time—including some mosses, fungi, opossums and crayfish. They are a great fit in their current habitat, so there is no need for them to change. Others, such as beetles, need to change in order to survive due to changing climates or new competitors. Humans weren’t the first or last organism to change or evolve on planet Earth.

Another misconception is that humans are no longer evolving, so we can’t observe evolution in action. Plus, humans seem far too complex to have evolved in the first place. The reality is that evolution takes places over a large span of time, and human evolution occurs over so many generations that we can’t observe it in one lifetime. Evolution occurs to populations and species, not necessarily individuals. For example, a giraffe may not grow a longer neck during its lifetime, but over time a community of giraffes with longer necks will survive while the ones with shorter necks will die out. As a result, longer-necked giraffes will mate with each other over many generations, creating a noticeable difference over a long period of time.

To relate this to a human change, most adult mammals (including humans) are lactose intolerant and cannot digest milk. But 80% of adults of European ancestry do have a gene that allows them to consume milk. Why? About 5,000 to 10,000 years ago, dairy farming became a part of European life, and there was a genetic response to this change in diet. We see this evolutionary response when we drink milk today.

There are so many ideas to explore in the Human Origins exhibit, including the big question—What does it mean to be human? Is it how we care for each other? Is it our belief system? Is it biological unity? These are some pretty big questions.

What does it mean to be human? Share your ideas below.

Experience the Human Origins exhibit at the National Museum of Natural History (now celebrating its 100th year!) Also, enjoy a exclusive reception at the museum on our Celebrate Smithsonian tour.  Want to see what you might have looked like as a Neanderthal? Check our our new mobile app, MEanderthal.

Smithsonian Institution: Our Top Five Picks

Wednesday, May 12th, 2010
The Smithsonian Castle

The Smithsonian Castle

There are millions of objects in our collection, so picking only five isn’t really fair. But each of us has our own personal favorite that might be off the beaten path. That’s why we have Celebrate Smithsonian, the tour that takes you behind-the-scenes to see objects you might not have noticed.

  1. Let’s face it, Americans love their television. From 1971 to 1979, “All in the Family” was one of the most popular and influential TV shows in the United States. It addressed blatant bigotry and self-righteousnes in our culture, while actually finding the humor in its absurdity. Archie Bunker, played by Carroll O’Connor, spouted his opinions while sitting in his chair — which is now on display at the National Museum of American History.
  2. Military history fans and aviation nuts love the Curtiss P-40E. Also known as the Warhawk, Tomahawk, or Kittyhawk, this plane was incredibly versatile during World War II. But the Smithsonian has an even deeper connection to this plane. It was flown by the former Deputy Director of the National Air and Space Museum, Donald S. Lopez, who passed away in March 2008. Before it was hoisted to the ceiling trusses for permanent display, Mr. Lopez sat in the cockpit and posed in front of the airplane in the exact same position as a photo taken of him in China.  ”It was wonderful,” Lopez said about that day. “I am proud to have a P-40 here. It felt good to sit in the cockpit – I’d have no trouble flying it today.”
  3. For the kid in all of us, our next pick comes from the National Museum of the American Indian. As an incredible mix of tradition and modern life, Kiowa artist Teri Greeves decided to take her Converse sneakers and beaded them into a work of art. They are now on display on the third floor in the Our Lives gallery.
  4. We have all made a mistake, an oops, or maybe even a “whoopsie daisy”. Well, the Bureau of Engraving and Printing had their turn during the week of May 6- 13, 1918 when one sheet of one hundred stamps with an inverted image of a blue airplane escaped detection. After a series of purchases, the sheet has been broken into individual stamps, creating the legendary “Inverted Jenny” stamps. It’s now the most requested object to see at the National Postal Museum.
  5. For the true music fan, it doesn’t matter if it’s a harpsichord from the 1700s or Prince’s guitar. All of it is fascinating. The National Museum of American History’s music and musical instrument collection ranges from Dizzy Gillespie’s B-flat Trumpet to the Servais Cello, created by Antonio Stradivari (b. 1644). There are even early sound recordings of Elvis in this collection.

What’s your favorite object in the Smithsonian collection? Share Below.

Celebrate Smithsonian with us this October and explore the Smithsonian Institution’s  Museum Support Center made famous in Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol!

Where Were You During the Inauguration?

Monday, April 5th, 2010

Those of us who live in Washington, D.C. can state for a fact 2009′s Inauguration Day was a very cold one indeed. Compared to President Ronald Reagan’s Inauguration in 1981 when it was 55 degrees at noon, the Obama ceremony was shockingly cold at 28 degrees with a windchill of 11 at the time of his swearing-in.

But you never would have thought that looking at First Lady Michelle Obama. As millions watched on the National Mall, online, and on television sets around the world, she stood in her lemongrass-colored ensemble (designed by Cuban-American Isabel Toledo) throughout the day as if it weren’t freezing cold out there. Later that night, she changed into the gown created by 27-year-old designer Jason Wu and made her way around Washington, dancing at various balls into the wee hours.

So, where is the Jason Wu gown now? It’s in the National Museum of American History, along with other gowns donated by Mamie Eisenhower,  Jacqueline Kennedy, and Barbara Bush.

And for the record, the First Lady was fully aware of how cold it was on that night.

Get a behind-the-scenes experience on our Destination Smithsonian  programs, where you and your family will get up close and personal with objects in the Smithsonian’s various collections.

Where were you during the Inauguration Night? Share below.

Explore the Smithsonian from the Historic Hay-Adams Hotel

Monday, June 22nd, 2009
View from the rooftop terrace of the Hay-Adams Hotel. Photo: Courtesy of Flickr user Freddthompson.

View from the Hay-Adams roof. Photo: Flickr user Freddthompson.

Opened in 1928, the historic Hay-Adams Hotel is the featured hotel for this year’s Celebrate Smithsonian insider’s tour. The homes of John Hay and Henry Adams once stood where the hotel sits now. Its unparalleled views of the executive mansion have been enjoyed for decades by luminaries like Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart, and Ethel Barrymore.

The hotel was developed by D.C. real-estate magnate Harry Wardman, who is best known for the thousands of rowhouses he had built in the city, which popularized the use of a front porch. Wardman also built luxury apartment buildings in the Columbia Heights and 16th Street corridors, as well as the Wardman Park Hotel.

Exterior of the Hay-Adams Hotel, Washington, DC.

After undergoing extensive renovations in 2001, the Hay Adams reopened to critical acclaim, as well-known for its service as its distinguished history and architecture. Recently, in January, 2009, the Obama family stayed at the Hay-Adams while preparing for the Inauguration.

Stay at the historic Hay-Adams and go behind the scenes of the Smithsonian. Click here to learn more about our Washington, D.C. weekend at the Smithsonian Institution.

Behind the Scenes of Our Newest Exhibits

Wednesday, June 10th, 2009

Here at the Smithsonian Institution, discoveries of bones aren’t unusual. Sometimes they turn up where expected, at old cemeteries or burial sites. Other times they pop up in unusual places, as many graves end up unmarked after the passage of time. In 2005, Smithsonian forensic anthropologists recovered the bones of several early colonists from Jamestown, the first settlement in early 17th century Chesapeake. What they found at James Fort shed new light on the difficult lives of the earliest European settlers. Today, their findings are on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History in our Written in Bone exhibit.

Skulls on display at the National Museum of Natural History. Photo: Betsy Brand

Skulls on display at the National Museum of Natural History. Photo: Betsy Brand

See the exhibit for yourselves on our Celebrate Smithsonian tour, September 9-12. Enjoy unparalleled behind-the-scenes access to our collections and talk with the curators of Written in Bone.