Exhibition Highlights

Highlights of the exhibition

Where Do We All
Come From?

Many cultures have myths and tales suggesting that at some remote time their ancestors were not exactly like themselves. Fossil Fragments: The Riddle of Human Origins, a new permanent exhibition at the Yale Peabody Museum, tells the story of the continuing scientific search for our ancestry, and of what we know of different kinds of humans that once lived in the distant past.

The exhibition, which opened on March 24, 2004, presents a wealth of information and fossil material on the evolution of our human ancestors. Join exhibition curator, Yale professor, and paleoanthropologist Andrew Hill for an overview of the exhibition and the ongoing fieldwork behind it.

Visit the exhibition through this interactive
QuickTime™ VR movie
[13.4 MB].

Exhibit curator Andrew Hill.

Exhibit curator Andrew Hill.

Peabody Curator and Yale Professor Andrew Hill (at right) holds a replica of a hominid skull fragment that may be as old as 1.8 million years. The original comes from Swartkrans, South Africa, and has two distinct puncture wounds. In his other hand is the lower mandible of a leopard. Leopard canine teeth almost exactly match the puncture wounds, and it is likely that this unfortunate fossil hominid was in fact cat food.

Exhibition Highlights

  • Turkana Boy,” a full-size replica of the most complete early hominid skeleton ever found.
  • Lucy,” a full-size replica of the fossil that brought the search for human origins to the world’s attention.
  • A replica of footprints preserved in volcanic ash, showing that the hominid that left them 3.7 million years ago walked on its back legs much like we do.
  • Real food remains and stone tools made by the Neanderthals, the best-known of the extinct hominids.
  • A floor mural that recreates Mary Leakey’s Olduvai site in Tanzania, Africa.
  • Touchable bronze skulls that compare Homo sapiens, our hominid ancestors, and our nearest living animal relative, the chimpanzee.
  • The reconstruction of the head of a male Neanderthal shows us what this early ancestor may have looked like.

Fossil Fragments: The Riddle of Human Origins is divided into two parts.

History Room

This first section of Fossil Fragments is a history of the continuing search for evidence of our origins and ancestry.

The History of Fossil Hunting introduces the many scientists who have contributed to our knowledge of our human ancestors. Beginning with Charles Darwin and Thomas Huxley, who laid the foundations of paleoanthropology over 150 years ago, the exhibition features the personalities whose expeditions discovered the fossils that established the discrete species of extinct humans—hominids—we recognize today.

The discovery of new fossils, particularly those of a new species, has always had a major effect on ideas about human origins. As the search has gone on, older and older ancestors have been unearthed.

Fossils Room

The fossil evidence shows that the different kinds of humans of the distant past were very successful animals, some existing far longer than our own species has thus far. The Timeline of Human Evolution explains this evidence from the very earliest human ancestors over 6 million years ago to the most recent, Homo sapiens.

Neanderthal Reconstruction

A whole variety of species of hominids developed in Africa. The timeline chart shows how many hominid species lived at any one time. Different forms lived in different areas, and different species also lived in the same place and at the same time. All but one of these lineages became extinct. With the evolution of our own species, Homo sapiens, we gradually increased our range throughout our evolutionary home in Africa, in time moving into Europe, Asia, and eventually the rest of the world.

Learning Resources. Timeline of Evolution. The Fossils. History of Fossil Hunting. Home Page.

© Yale Peabody Museum, 2005. All rights reserved.