Missing Links-Alive! Highlights

Exhibit Opens May 29,1999

SAN FRANCISCO (March 1999) -- Missing Links-Alive! takes visitors on an exciting journey of discovery, unraveling the mystery of human origins and offering a glimpse at what life might have been like as far back as four million years ago. Developed by more than twenty distinguished anthropologists, archaeologists and paleontologists, the exhibit uses the latest technology to present the scientific findings uncovered over the last 150 years by the world's leading researchers. Here are some highlights of the 9,000 square foot exhibit:


Rock Portal Entrance
Visitors enter through a large "rock" entrance into Missing Links - Alive!

Excavation Site
Animatronic figures of renowned paleoanthropologist Dr. Meave Leakey and the man who has found most of the known fossils of early human ancestors, Kamoya Kimeu - dressed as excavators working in the field - "talk" about their significant discoveries in East Africa.

Field Lab
Visitors look into a tent structure where they find an authentic field laboratory. Behind a desk is an animatronic reconstruction of anthropologist Dr. Richard Leakey, explaining the significance of fossil finds. The excavation site and field lab give visitors an inside look at how the scientist works in the field.

DIORAMAS (with moving animatronic figures)

Diorama 1 - Australopithecine, dating 3 to 4 million years ago.
Scientific advisor and presenter (on large-screen video): Dr. Meave Leakey, Kenya National Museum, Africa
Dr. Meave Leakey explains her fossil discoveries of the Australopithecines, the earliest known human ancestors who were bipedal (walked on two limbs) and used primitive tools. Animatronic figures of a male and female and of a mother and child are shown foraging for food in the trees. Nearby, a hyena attacks two females while their male companion rushes to their aid, brandishing a stick.

Diorama 2 - Homo erectus/Homo ergaster, dating 1.5 to 1 million years ago.
Scientific advisor and presenter (on large-screen video): Dr. Alan Walker, Penn State University, USA
This scene depicts ancestors that are considerably taller and heavier than the Australopithecine. Homo erectus demonstrates the long arms, legs and torso typical in hot climates. These structural adaptations help to dissipate body heat.

The diorama shows several figures engaged in daily activities, including butchering an antelope and caring for the sick. One member of the group, thought to have been 11 years old, has died. Known as the Turkana boy, he represents the best known fossil specimen of Homo erectus.

Diorama 3 - Neanderthals, dating 100,000 o 50,000 years ago.
Scientific advisor and presenter (on large-screen video): Dr. Erik Trinkaus, University of New Mexico, USA
The audience looks at the Neanderthal characters, which are very close relatives of modern Homo sapiens. Neanderthals demonstrate many characteristics similar to contemporary hominids. In this sense, several Neanderthals are engaging in a uniquely human activity: burial of the dead. Other figures represent a family group returning to shelter with firewood and food.

Skull in cabinet
A replicated Neanderthal skull from La Farrassle, France.

Diorama 4 - Cro-Magnons, dating 40,000 to 20,000 years ago.
Scientific advisor and presenter (on large-screen video): Dr. Jean Clottes, International Committee on Rock Art, CAR-ICOMOS, France
Dr. Jean Clottes explains the Cro-Magnons, fully human beings with religious concepts and a well-developed ability to produce representational art. This scene recreates the insdie of a cave. A child holds a torch for an elder, who is painting the figure of an animal on the cave wall. Nearby, other members of the group are tending the fire and preparing a meal.

The Cro-Magnon character kneeling closest to the cave is making a hand stencil on the wall by putting her hand against the wall and blowing paint on her hand. Maybe this action was the equivalent of trying to draw an animal, and maybe it was also a way to get in touch with the spirits behind the cave wall.

Forty-five interactive elements and stations, among which include:

On becoming bipedal
The visitor steps onto an exercise treadmill and begins to walk, thereby activating the lighted display next to the treadmill. The display goes through a sequence of animated figures - from quadrupedalism (walking on four limbs) to bipedalism (walking on two limbs) - all of them walking as fast as the visitor.

What killed the Australopithecine?
Looking at the back of a replicated cranium for clues, visitors give their theory as to which animal species attacked and killed this early Australopithecine.

Touch skulls
Visitors touch skull models to compare brow ridges, chin size, forehead shape and brain size in different hominids.

Strength comparison
Visitors compare the strength of a Neanderthal to the strength of modern humans through an arm-wrestling-like interactive station.

Clues from the past
Visitors use clues to find replicated fossils - such as homind teeth, a turtle shell, a Homo erectus skull, a flint blade, elephant tusks and a saber-toothed tiger fang - in a typical fossil site. This interactive presentation teaches visitors how difficult it is to find fossils in the field.

What can we learn from a fossil?
Visitors learn how scientists use fossil evidence to reconstruct information about the past.

Tool comparison
Visitors touch different replicated ancient stone tools and see what they were used for by comparing them with modern tools.

Handprint comparison
The visitor can place his/her hand on the top of three-dimensional models representing the hands of a gorilla, an orangutan, a chimpanzee and Australopithecus africanus. The visitor can compare the size and location of his/her hand and the length of the palm and fingers.

Question and answer quiz
Question and answer panels are displayed throughout the exhibit to test and educate visitors on various related subjects.

Tree of Evolution
An evolutionary tree with a lighted display provides visitors with a perception of time and era to see when the different types of hominids were alive.

Special additions to Missing Links-Alive!
Artifacts from the Moravian Museum Brno
A remarkable collection of carved bones and fired clay artifacts from the Moravian Museum Brno. Hidden in cave vaults in the Czech Republic since before World War II, the artifacts are among the earliest pieces of three-dimensional art in the world.

Originating between 22,000 and 28,000 years ago in central Europe, the pieces include statues carved on clay, ivory, bone and other materials. The highlight of this collection is the renowned Dolni Vestonice Venus. Made of burnt clay some 25,000 years ago, the Venus is one of the oldest known ceramic sculptures and among the earliest evidence of fired clay. One of the oldest and most exquisite examples of human expression, it is considered by many scholars to be as significant as the Mona Lisa in terms of artistic importance.

Bi-pedalism Mini-Exhibit
The Academy has developed a mini-exhibit highlighting the research on human evolution conducted by Academy curator, Dr. Nina Jablonski. This exhibit will feature Dr. Jablonski's research on the evolution of human bipedalism and the controversy surrounding humanity's first steps (literally!).