Two days ago (4/13/15) was my 3rd day in Washington, and I was on a mission to see everything I possibly could in the Museum of Natural History.
I picked up where I left off the day before and finished the oceanic section by the late morning. From there I went through the human origins section to round out the first floor.
Learning about the evolution and anthropology behind early man always fascinated me.
The exhibits were awesome. The progression of the skull and jaw structure and function is visually explained through a collection of about 80 complete or partial skulls spanning from a time when the individual was clearly not human to when it clearly is.
Note – these are not real skulls they are Casts or Replicas. Casts are reproductions made from a mold of the original specimen. Replicas are 3D print outs from a CT or laser scan of the original specimen. They also displayed Models which are hand-made, accurate reproductions, based on images and measurements of the original specimen. (The have signs asking you to touch these!)
There is no “missing link”. The lack of excitement surrounding the understanding we have of the heritage of homo sapiens is disappointing. I see it as analogous to a big theatrical magic trick whose secret is now revealed. After folks realize that nothing supernatural necessarily occurred, that David Blaine relied on the same physical laws of smoke and mirrors already present in our everyday lives, their frustration wanders off to the next currently difficult to understand thing.
The biggest new thing that I learned was that as recently as 17,000 years ago there existed a species known as Homo Floresiensis who lived on the island of Flores in Indonesia. The current scientific consensus suggests this is a completely different species than Homo Sapiens. We both share a common ancestor. They are NOT simply small human beings. And it was their isolated island community that was our last close relative to become extinct – not Neanderthals (apparently extinct 40,000 years ago).
Upstairs I moved through the bones section (fascinating) into the insects section (cool) into the dinosaurs section (very cool) into the geology and earth science section (very very cool) and minerals section (visually stunning) then back down into the exhibit on the diversity of orchid species (so cool!).
I think a lot about extraterrestrial life, and I have trouble conceiving of any type of alien that is not already very similar to an animal which is or was already living on the Earth.