Surviving: The Body of Evidence

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Media Contact:Pam Kosty | | (215) 898-4045December 5, 2007


New National Science Foundation Funded Traveling Exhibition Focuses on the Process of Human Evolution and Its Outcomes


Surviving: The Body of Evidence, a new, interactive exhibition that explores the process of evolution and its profound impact on humans, opens at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology in Philadelphia April 19, 2008 through May 3, 2009, before beginning a multi-city, national tour. The innovative exhibition, three years in the planning, is made possible in large part by a nearly two million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation, with additional support from individual, corporate, and foundation donors.

In Surviving, visitors have an opportunity to engage with a variety of multi-media programs, as well as view, and touch, more than 100 casts of fossil bones from the primate and human evolutionary records, in a rich exploration of physical anthropology and its relationship to evolutionary science. Interactive activities throughout the exhibition enhance a focused examination of the human body in the context of its evolutionary strengths and limitations, while large-screen technologies help give life to complex topics. A complementary interactive educational website will further extend the reach of the traveling exhibition.

"'Surviving'—with its conceptual, as opposed to artifact-driven content, and its enhanced engagement opportunities through multimedia educational tools--is an exciting departure for Penn Museum, and an exciting new way for the public to learn about themselves from an evolutionary perspective—and discover why learning about evolution matters," noted Dr. Richard Hodges, the Williams Director, Penn Museum.

Conceptually, the exhibition is divided into six major sections, beginning with “Fit for Life,” where the visitor takes stock of the inherited human strengths and capabilities that make each individual a “survivor” in our complex world. Endurance, flexibility, balance, dexterity, appetite, and communication capabilities often taken for granted are considered through a dramatic cascading video display.

In “Our Place in the Natural World,” the second section, the visitor is drawn back millions of years, with the help of images, fossils and interactive graphics, to consider an ancestry shared with primates and other mammals. The search is on in “Finding Your Human Ancestors,” the third section, where the exhibition traces the evidence regarding human evolution from key discoveries made in Africa, Europe and Asia. A “time tunnel” of human evolution, featuring touchable casts of fossils from the evolutionary record, gives the visitor a direct connection with the evidence used by scientists to piece together and understand our evolutionary history.

“Witnessing Evolution,” the fourth segment of the exhibition, allows visitors to continue their journeys, this time meeting up with famous naturalists from several centuries. A series of interactive “sound chairs” feature seven famous scientists—including Carolus Linnaeus (1701-1778), Charles Darwin (1809-1882), Joseph Leidy (1823-1891), and Mary Leakey (1913-1996)--who offer their perspectives and their sometimes- revolutionary ideas “in their own words.”

In the exhibition’s fifth, centerpiece section, “We Are Not Perfect, But We Are OK,” visitors come face to face with the realities of the imperfect, but remarkable, aspects of their own bodies, formed as they are through the evolutionary process. Here, visitors get some evolutionary answers about why their backs may ache, why they have wisdom teeth, and why those teeth may need to be pulled, or why the effort of giving birth is so strenuous, through an array of models and interactive multi-media displays.

Here, also, is the exhibition’s “Body of Evidence,” a three-times life-sized recumbent figure of a woman, offering visitors a chance to explore the evolution-driven characteristics of many joints, through highly detailed, interactive three-dimensional renderings and original animations.

“We Keep Evolving” is the concluding segment of the exhibition, which invites the visitor to access the impact of evolution both today and in to the future. Visitors can consider imagined futures as shared by geneticists, evolutionary biologists, nanotechnology engineers, and even local school children, through video presentations. Finally, as they leave the exhibition, the visitors will have the opportunity to take part in a poll of ideas about where we are going from here, in evolutionary terms. These ideas will be added to an exhibition that, like the process it is exploring, is also evolving, engaging the visitor in the act of envisioning our shared future.

Dr. Janet Monge and Dr. Alan Mann are the exhibition’s curators. An active researcher and lecturer with more than 15 years experience teaching undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Pennsylvania, Bryn Mawr College, and Princeton University, Dr. Monge is Acting Curator of the Physical Anthropology section of Penn Museum and long-time Keeper of the Museum’s Physical Anthropology collection. Dr. Mann, Curator Emeritus of the Physical Anthropology Section at Penn Museum (1969 to 2001) and Research Associate at the Museum today, is Professor of Anthropology at Princeton University.

Together over several decades, Dr. Monge and Dr. Mann developed Penn Museum’s extensive human fossil cast research collection, which today includes the most significant collection of human fossil molds and casts in the world. Casts from that collection, created from important original fossils excavated at sites on several continents, are used in the exhibition.

Surviving: The Body of Evidence is designed by Toronto-based Reich + Petch Design International, whose work includes the Smithsonian’s Hall of Mammals in the Museum of National History. The interactive elements and A/V components are produced by Chedd-Angier-Lewis, producers for the PBS series NOVA and Frontline, with exhibition interpretation by Blue Sky Design.

In addition to support from the National Science Foundation, Surviving: The Body of Evidence is made possible by the generous contributions of many individual, corporate, and foundation donors, including A. T. Chadwick Co., Andrea M. Baldeck, M.D. and William M. Hollis, Jr., Ms. Carrie Cox and Mr. Kenneth Cox, duPont Company, Dr. Leslie Hudson, the Virginia and Harvey Kimmel Arts and Education Fund, Diane vS. Levy and Robert M. Levy, Mr. and Mrs. A. Bruce Mainwaring, P. Agnes, Inc., Park Avenue Charitable Fund, Schering-Plough Corporation; Eric and Alexandra Schoenberg Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Eric J. Schoenberg, The Women’s Committee of the University of Pennsylvania Museum, and Wyeth. Planning for this project was supported by the Heritage Philadelphia Program at the Philadelphia Center for Arts and Heritage, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts, and administered by The University of the Arts.

The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, 3260 South Street on the University of Pennsylvania's campus in Philadelphia, is dedicated to the study and understanding of human history and diversity. Founded in 1887, Penn Museum has sent more than 400 archaeological and anthropological expeditions to all the inhabited continents of the world. With an active exhibition schedule and educational programming for children and adults, the Museum offers the public an opportunity to share in the ongoing discovery of humankind’s collective heritage. The Museum can be found on the world wide web at For general information call 215/898-4000.