Smithsonian Unveils Evotourism (TM) Website For People Interested In Our Evolutionary Past

Ever heard of Evotourism? No? That’s because the Smithsonian Institution just made it up.

This month’s issue of Smithsonian magazine is all about Evotourism, which they’ve decided to trademark so we all have to put that pesky trademark symbol after it. Not a user-friendly way to coin a new term.

As their new dedicated site says, Evotourism is the “Smithsonian’s new travel-information service that will help you find and fully enjoy the wonders of evolution. Whether it’s a city museum or suburban fossil trove, a historic scientific site overseas or a rare creature in your own backyard, we’ll direct you to places and discoveries that figure in the science of evolution or offer eye-opening evidence of the process of natural selection.”

The site lists a variety of places to learn about the evolution of life on our planet, from Dinosaur National Monument in Utah, where you and your family can pose for photos in front of a dinosaur still encased in rock, to Darwin’s home just outside London. Each destination is given a detailed treatment with an accompanying article.

There are also some general articles on subjects such as the life and work of Charles Darwin. One important piece is an interview with Christián Samper, former director of Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History that clears up many of the misconceptions about evolution, such as the common misperception that belief in evolution and belief in God is an either/or proposition.

The site is organized by theme, so if you have kids in tow or are a photographer, you’ll be directed to the sites that are best for you.

It’s a good list to start with, but of course there are many more sites to visit and the folks at the Smithsonian will be adding to it. They were modest enough not to include their own Natural History Museum in Washington, DC, surely one of the best Evotourism destinations anywhere. I’d also suggest the Science Museum in London, the Natural History Museum in New York City, and the Natural History Museum in Oxford, England.

For adventure travelers who want to get to the source, there’s the National Museum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, which has Lucy, the famous 3.2 million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis, and a display of skulls from the earliest human ancestors to modern humans in chronological order to show how primate-like traits gradually gave way to a more human appearance. Other rooms show the evolution of other animals.

What other Evotourism destinations would you recommend? Tell us in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy Flickr user InSapphoWeTrust]

Oldest human footprints will soon be on public view

History buffs love to see the places where famous people walked, but how about the thrill of seeing where some of mankind’s earliest ancestors strolled by? Footprints dating back 3.6 million years were discovered at Laetoli in Tanzania by the famous paleontologist Dr. Mary Leakey back in 1976. The prints of three individuals and several animals had been pressed into a layer of ash deposited by a nearby volcano and became fossilized as more and more ash and dirt piled up and pressed the lower layers into a soft rock called tuff.

This find is of major importance to the study of human evolution but the site itself hasn’t been open to the public for 15 years. Now Tanzanian officials have announced that the footprints will again be on view. The prints are in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, which already attracts about 400,000 tourists annually.

The tracks are those of three individuals walking upright. One walked in the footprints of another and all lead in the same direction. It’s unclear what hominid (early form of human) made the tracks, but several skeletons of the Australopithecus afarensis were discovered in the region and date to the same approximate period. The famous Lucy skeleton is an Australopithecus afarensis. The photo shows a reconstruction of one at the Cosmocaixa museum in Barcelona.

Scientists are currently studying how to open the site with minimal impact. They expect the process to take up to two years.

This is the latest round in a continuing controversy over how to preserve the prints. Some scientists say the entire section of rock should be removed and placed in a museum. Others say they’re much more compelling where they were found. A protective sealant was placed over the prints in 1995 and the whole area was covered with earth. While this has kept the prints in good condition, it means nobody gets to appreciate them. Hopefully Tanzanian scientists will find a way to preserve the prints while allowing visitors to enjoy this one-of-a-kind discovery.

[Photo courtesy user Esv via Wikimedia Commons]