Press Release

Kelly Mendez (415) 379-5133
Stephanie Stone (415) 379-5121


Dramatic new addition to Tusher African Hall explores the origin of our species

SAN FRANCISCO (February 7, 2013) – Did you know that humans almost went extinct 90,000 to 70,000 years ago? Or that the 7 billion people on the planet today are virtually identical, genetically speaking? Trace the milestones of our species' fascinating history in Human Odyssey, a dramatic new addition to Tusher African Hall at the California Academy of Sciences, opening on February 8, 2013.

Occupying the west end of the hall, Human Odyssey features interactive displays, detailed fossil casts, and the latest scientific knowledge about the evolution of Homo sapiens—a still-unfolding story that began in Africa 7 million years ago. Visitors can discover important milestones that occurred along the way to becoming human, such as upright walking, tool making, bigger brains, and symbolic thinking; learn how close our species came to the brink of extinction when extreme climate change reduced our population to as few as 10,000 breeding pairs; trace our species' extensive migration across the globe; and gain a new perspective on the 7 billion people alive today, whose DNA is 99.9% identical.

Highlights of Human Odyssey include:

  • Faces from the past - Visitors can examine the skull casts of three early human species (Sahelanthropus tchadensis, Paranthropus boisei, and Homo heidelbergensis), then watch as fleshed-out reconstructions of their faces appear using "Pepper's Ghost" optical illusion technology.
  • Walking with Lucy - Next to a full-scale recreation of the famous "Lucy" skeleton (Australopithecus afarensis), a computer animation will compare the distinctive gaits of a chimpanzee, A. afarensis, and modern human, highlighting the trait of upright walking that the latter two share.
  • Interactive migration map - Touchscreen stations will allow visitors to trace our species' migration from its African origins over the past 70,000 years, and discover the various obstacles and encounters that humans faced along the way.
  • Academy research - The work of noted Academy anthropologist Dr. Zeray Alemseged will be highlighted in Human Odyssey. Alemseged, who leads a team conducting annual field work in Ethiopia, researches the evolution of early human ancestors and the ancient environmental and ecological conditions that shaped the trajectory of our species. Among his notable discoveries are "Selam," an exceptionally well-preserved Australopithecus afarensis fossil from 3.3 million years ago, and the earliest evidence to date of tool use and meat-eating by human ancestors.

Human Odyssey is generously supported by Pauline and Tom Tusher.

This spring, the Academy will offer a suite of public programs related to Human Odyssey.

Daily at 1:00 pm (February 1 - May 9)
Adventure through Africa and explore the amazing biodiversity of its animals and habitats. How do pythons hunt so masterfully in the dark of night? How does a hissing cockroach attract a mate? And just how fast does a cheetah run? Discover the answers and learn how each animal plays an important role in its diverse ecosystem. Free with Academy admission. California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park. (415) 379-8000.

Saturdays and Sundays at 11:00 am (February 1 - May 9)

Ever wonder how our evolutionary story began? In this lab-based program, you will learn about recent discoveries that scientists have made in uncovering the story of "us." Touch a hominin skull cast or stone tool replica to better understand what fossil exploration tells us, and learn how scientists make sense of it all through DNA analysis and modern technology. Free with Academy admission. California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park. (415) 379-8000.

Monday - Friday at 11:00 am (February 1 - May 9)
Follow the milestones in human evolution—upright walking, tool making, and symbolic thinking—while comparing the adaptations of early humans to our modern bodies. Free with Academy admission. California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Drive, Golden Gate Park. (415) 379-8000.

Dr. Zeray Alemseged, Irvine Chair of Anthropology, California Academy of Sciences
Wednesday, February 13 at 7:00 pm
Lucy and Selam are famous skeletons that belong to Australopithecus afarensis, a direct ancestor of humans that lived between 4 and 3 million years ago. When Lucy's skeleton was discovered in 1974, it helped establish that this creature was an upright walking species, pushing the then accepted date for bipedalism back by a million years. Lucy's foot, knee and pelvis are all very humanlike. However, her upper body tells a different story, with features that are much more apelike, including long arms and curved fingers. For more than 35 years, scientists have debated whether or not these features suggest that Lucy's species also climbed trees. In this presentation, Dr. Alemseged discusses the evidence for climbing behavior in A. afarensis based on new analysis of his own find "Selam," currently the most complete and earliest skeleton of a juvenile human ancestor. 7:00 pm; Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for seniors, free for Academy members. Purchase tickets in advance at or (415) 379-8000. Seating is limited. California Academy of Sciences, 55 Music Concourse Dr., Golden Gate Park.

Thursday, February 28 from 6:00 - 10:00 pm
Every Thursday night, music, creatures and cocktails come together for NightLife at the Academy. This week, in honor of Human Odyssey, a dramatic new addition to the Academy's Tusher African Hall, hear from a trio of Academy scientists who conduct fieldwork in Africa. Paleoanthropologist Zeray Alemseged will discuss studying human evolution in Ethiopia's Great East African Rift, known as the "cradle of mankind," while curators Bob Drewes and David Blackburn will share tales of tracking down African snakes and frogs. Plus, get an up-close look at magnificent African big cats brought in by The Wildcat Education and Conservation Fund—mee-ow! Music TBA. Tickets are $12/$10 for Academy members. This event is for adults 21+ with valid ID. Purchase tickets in advance at or by calling (415) 379-8000. This event takes place at the California Academy of Sciences.