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!
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.
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
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.
Visitors touch skull models to compare brow ridges, chin size, forehead
shape and brain size in different hominids.
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
What can we learn from a fossil?
Visitors learn how scientists use fossil evidence to reconstruct information
about the past.
Visitors touch different replicated ancient stone tools and see what they
were used for by comparing them with modern tools.
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.
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!).