Natural History Museum to open new Human Evolution Gallery

By Richard Moss | 18 November 2015

The Natural History Museum is to tell the story of human evolution in a new permanent gallery opening December 18

a photo of two museum mannequin recreation of a neanderthal and homo sapien
Neanderthal and homo-sapien models in the gallery at the NHM© Trustees of NHM London
Over the last decade scientists have discovered and unravelled many astonishing ideas about the evolution of the human species. Only two years ago a new human relative was discovered in the Rising Star caves of South Africa to offer yet more tantalising clues to those perennial questions: Where do we come from? And what makes us human?

Now these fundamental mysteries that have shaped the study of human origins for centuries will be explored in a new gallery at the Natural History Museum, which will trace our species’ evolution from the first upright primate through to modern humans.

The new Human Evolution Gallery, due to open on December 18 2015, will span seven million years of human evolution and feature the first adult female Neanderthal cranium ever discovered, as well as a replica of the ‘Peking Man’ skull, which represents some of the oldest evidence of human habitation in China.

They will be accompanied by the most scientifically accurate life-size Neanderthal and early Homo sapiens models ever made, a striking pair of museums models that first made their appearance during the Natural History Museum’s hit 2014 exhibition Britain: One Million Years of Human History.

a photo of a model of an early man with tattooed legs
Homo Sapien Model © Trustees of NHM
The exhibition presented the work of the Ancient Human Occupation of Britain project, a multidisciplinary collaboration led by the NHM - the findings and ongoing research of experts at the museum will inform the shape of the new gallery.

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Professor Chris Stringer, the NHM's research leader in human origins, said: “Over the past decade, we and our colleagues have unravelled many astonishing ideas and discoveries using the Museum’s collection of human and pre-human fossils.

“With the latest investigative research techniques that are available here, such as CT scanning and DNA analysis, we continue to uncover the origins and dispersals of humans in an ever-changing world and present these advances in this permanent display.”

The gallery will feature original skulls, teeth and jawbones, full casts of skeletons and stone tools that reveal clues on how humans interacted with their surroundings. Also on display will be fossils of animals that shared the same environments.

a photo of a skull in front profile
Neanderthal skull Homo Neanderthalensis© Courtesy Trustees of NHM
Exploring what a hominin is as well as the complex family tree of humans, the gallery will explore changes in teeth, diet and lifestyles and how species of the past and changing environments have shaped today’s modern human. The NHM’s latest scientific research includes new archaeological findings, advanced DNA analysis and the direct dating of bones and teeth.

Describing the Rising Star Cave discovery as the addition of a “new branch to our family tree” Prof. Sringer added: “Ground-breaking discoveries such as these show just how crucial human origins research is for understanding our place in the natural world.

I’m delighted that the Museum can now connect people with this developing research and demonstrate the changes in behaviour, physique and technology over time.”

a close up of a model of a man with a long beard and a kindly face
Neanderthal model© Courtesy Trustees of NHM London
a photo of a skull in side profile
Homo erectus, Peking man cranium cast © Courtesy Trustees of NHM
  • The new human evolution gallery opens at the Natural History Museum, London on Friday December 18. Admission is free.

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