If you are one of those people who believe Satan planted fossils to fool mankind (and, yes, there are such people mingling in with the rest of us logical folks), step away from your computer. Stop reading, this isn’t for you. In fact, what are you doing even owning one of these devil machines!
Ok, I think the crazies are gone. Moving along…if you keep meaning to catch the Darwin exhibit at AMNH, time is almost up! It closes May 29, 2006. We told you all about the exhibit way back in December, but Gothamist finally made it there this weekend. And we learned at least a few new things… without having to read Darwin’s nearly 500 page tome, “The Origin of Species”. Considering that Mendelian inheritance wasn’t publicized till the 1860s and that Watson and Crick didn’t discover the double helix until 1953, Darwin’s work is really extraordinary. Though his theories were published in 1859, Darwin had conceptualized natural selection years before. The museum even has footage of the well-worn 'thinking path' Darwin trod for forty years of "should I or shouldn't I?"
The exhibit does not set out to prove evolution has occurred, and is still. It assumes you already believe that and chooses instead to show how Darwin came to that conclusion. There were many panels of information to read, somewhat wordy for the lazy weekend purveyor. However, many aspects of the exhibit were visually interesting and (gasp!) fun. Gothamist loved the live tortoise in particular. Amazing how unexciting, yet adorable, that crusty old tortoise is. Find the horned toads also held our attention.
On the dead side of things, the evolutionary tree of human ancestors, shown with skulls, was thought provoking, and is actually controversial. (An insider’s note: the tree presented is the one favored by NYCEP,the NY Consortium of Evolutionary Primatology, which includes the faculties of Columbia, NYU and CUNY. Other researchers have presented very different theories. Notice how the AMNH tree has modern humans descendant from gracile early species while the more robust species, like Neanderthals, are dead ends. Many anthropologists have posited that the different early hominids gave rise to the different races of people. Genetic analysis opposes these theories.)
The exposed forelimb bones of several species and the equine skeletons are excellent archetypes for evolution. Spend a few minutes there if you can. The orchid display at the end of the exhibit is also a great example of species variation...and it just darn pretty to look at.
You could even continue the Darwin theme and buy tickets for the IMAX showing of “Galapagos”. Sadly, you cannot complete your visit with a stroll through the Hall of Human Evolution. It’s closed until fall. A shame, since those arm-in-arm Australopithecines always make us chuckle.
Oh, and what did Gothamist learn? We would rather not spoil it for the rest of you. Here’s are some hints though: incest and fancy china.