Exhibit Floorplan

Explore this interactive floor plan of the Hall of Human Origins, which provides a description of the main highlights and an image for each section of the exhibition.

How Do We Know?

The aim of science is to build more accurate and powerful natural explanations of how the world works—and that requires testing ideas with observations and evidence to build scientific hypotheses and to generate predictions. The following examples explain how different kinds of evidence help scientists "know what we know", and how we use that evidence to draw conclusions about what happened in the past.

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Introduction to Human Evolution

Human evolution


Human evolution is the lengthy process of change by which people originated from apelike ancestors. Scientific evidence shows that the physical and behavioral traits shared by all people originated from apelike ancestors and evolved over a period of approximately six million years.

Butchered Animal Bones from Gona, Ethiopia

Butchered Animal Bones from Gona, Ethiopia
Date of discovery: 
2000
Discovered by: 
A team led by Michael J. Rogers
Age: 
About 2.6 million years old
Site: 
Gona, Ethiopia

Eating meat from large animals

Stone tool marks on this extinct zebra ankle bone fossil look like those made during butchery experiments. Scientists have made experimental stone tools and used them to butcher modern animals. There is a strong similarity between the marks their tools made and the marks on fossil animal bones, indicating that early humans used stone tools to butcher animals by this time.

Cut-marked Fossil Zebra Bone OG56-1 Gona, Ethiopia
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Oldowan Tools from Lokalalei, Kenya

Oldowan Tools from Lokalalei, Kenya
Date of discovery: 
1997
Discovered by: 
A team led by Hélène Roche and Mzalendo Kibunjia
Age: 
About 2.3 million years old
Site: 
Lokalalei, Kenya

Early humans in East Africa used hammerstones to strike stone cores and produce sharp flakes. When these stone flakes were removed from this stone core from, it also created sharp edges. For more than 2 million years, early humans used these tools to cut, pound, crush, and access new foods—including meat and bone marrow from large animals.

Core and flakes from Lokalalei, Kenya
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Bone Tools

Bone Tools
Age: 
About 1.5 million years old
Site: 
Swartkrans, Republic of South Africa

Early humans make bone tools

Experiments and microscopic studies show that early humans used the ends of these bone tools to dig in termite mounds. Through repeated use, the ends became rounded and polished. Termites are rich in protein and would have been a nutritious source of food for Paranthropus robustus.

Five Bone Tools, Swartkrans, South Africa
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Stone Tools from Majuangou, China

Stone Tools from Majuangou, China
Discovered by: 
A team led by Zhu Rixiang and Rick Potts
Age: 
About 1.66 million years old
Site: 
Majuangou, Nihewan Basin, China

Early humans expand from northeast to southeast Asia

These artifacts were discovered by a team from the Smithsonian working in collaboration with the Chinese Academy of Sciences and Hubei Institute of Cultural Relics. The team also found evidence of animal butchery and animal footprints.

Stone Core,  Majuangou, China
Stone Core, Majuangou, China
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Fire-Altered Stone Tools

Fire-Altered Stone Tools
Date of discovery: 
2004
Discovered by: 
A team led by Naama Goren-Inbar
Age: 
About 790,000 years old
Site: 
Gesher Benot-Ya’aqov, Israel

Gathering at the hearth

During this time period, early humans gathered around campfires that they made and controlled -- perhaps to socialize, to find comfort and warmth, to share food and information, and to find safety from predators. Scientists found this debris from stone toolmaking that had been scorched by fire at the site of Gesher Benot-Ya’aqov, Israel. Close by were concentrations of burned seeds and wood, marking the location of early hearths.

 Burned flint, Gesher Benot Ya'aquov, Israel.
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Punctured Horse Shoulder Blade

Punctured Horse Shoulder Blade
Discovered by: 
A team led by Mark Roberts
Age: 
About 500,000 years old
Site: 
Boxgrove, England

Hunting of large animals with spears

The semicircular wound on this  fragment of a horse shoulder blade was made by a weapon such as a spear, indicating it was killed by early humans. Other horse bones from the same site have butchery marks from stone tools.

Boxgrove horse scapula with spear puncture hole
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