EVOLVING PLANET: An Awe-Inspiring Journey Through Four Billion Years of Life

Opens Friday, March 10, 2006 at the Field Museum

CHICAGO, Feb. 23 /PRNewswire/ — Opening March 10, The Field Museum’s newest exhibition, Evolving Planet, takes visitors on an awe-inspiring journey through 4 billion years of life on Earth, from single-celled organisms to towering dinosaurs and our extended human family. Unique fossils, animated videos, hands-on interactive displays, and recreated sea- and landscapes help tell the compelling story of evolution — the single process that connects everything that has ever lived on Earth.

Dinosaur fans are in for a treat: an expanded dinosaur hall including representatives of every major group, evidence of the worlds they lived in, and updated information on what scientists have learned from our world- renowned T. rex, Sue. In video presentations throughout the exhibition, Field Museum scientists show visitors what we’re still learning about the past, present, and future of life on Earth.

Evolving Planet illuminates both time-tested and emerging ideas about the evolution of life with state-of-the-art exhibit tools. But the stars of the exhibition are the fossils, including hundreds never before displayed and many rare or exclusive to The Field Museum. Among them are the oldest known fossil of cells whose DNA is contained within a nucleus; the “Tully monster,” an odd marine creature (and Illinois state fossil), discovered not far from Chicago; the oldest known complete skeleton of a bat, a creature that has scarcely changed in 50 million years; and several dinosaurs making their Field debut.

For many visitors, a highlight of their journey through Evolving Planet will be the Mesozoic Era — the age of dinosaurs. It’s a gargantuan display, with authentic fossils and detailed casts spanning the era from Herrerasaurus, one of the earliest dinosaurs, to the ferocious meat-eaters of the Late Cretaceous Period. Among the long-necked sauropods are a 72-foot-long Apatosaurus; original bones from the Brachiosaurus that stands guard outside the Museum, and the 18-foot-long youngster of a new dinosaur, Rapetosaurus, discovered recently in Madagascar.

The dinosaurs are truly in their element in the new Genius Hall of Dinosaurs: it’s decorated with the famous murals painted for The Field Museum eighty years ago by Charles R. Knight, including the famous mural showing T. rex confronting a Triceratops. Twenty-three of the huge paintings, beautifully restored, are on display throughout Evolving Planet.

We may regret the passing of the ancient dinosaurs, but their disappearance made way for an astonishing diversity of mammals. In fact, as visitors will learn, there have been at least six mass extinctions since the dawn of life; each one allowed the surviving lineages to diversify as they developed new features and occupied new roles in an altered world.

Evolving Planet explores the climate changes and environmental challenges that led to the diversification of mammals — from small rodents to the enormous short-faced bear making its first appearance in this exhibition. This complete fossil skeleton is an imposing sight, rearing up on its hind legs to a height of more than 11 feet!

The past 65 million years hold many fascinating stories. Visitors will discover, for example, how hoofed land mammals evolved into ocean-dwelling whales … and why two predators, separated by a vast sea and 25 million years, evolved the same saber-like teeth. And they’ll learn about the origins of Homo sapiens, including the wide array of hominid species that comprise the many branches of our family tree.

One of the most fascinating stories is that of Lucy, an early member of our family from the species Australopithecus afarensis. The life-like reconstruction made especially for this exhibition reveals a creature as close to apes as to modern humans. A replica of Lucy’s skeleton shows why her discovery in 1974 was so significant: the shape of her pelvis and legs indicates she walked upright, like us; but her brain was small, her skull the size of a chimpanzee’s. It was this discovery that convinced scientists that humans began to walk upright before our brains grew large, and not the other way around.

Admission to Evolving Planet is free with general admission to The Field Museum ($12 for adults, $7 for children 4-11, seniors, and students with ID). Discounts are available for Chicago residents. To purchase tickets, call 866- FIELD-03 (866-343-5303), visit http://www.fieldmuseum.org/ , or come to the Museum’s box office. The Field Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily except Christmas Day. Last tickets are sold at 4 p.m. For Museum information call (312) 922-9410 or visit online at http://www.fieldmuseum.org/ .

The Elizabeth Morse Genius Charitable Trust is the generous sponsor of the Genius Hall of Dinosaurs. Evolving Planet is made possible, in part, by support from Mr. James L. Alexander; Mrs. Noel Kaplan; Mr. and Mrs. John W. Rowe; Illinois Department of Commerce and Community Affairs; “Public Museum Capital Grant Program,” Illinois Department of Natural Resources, Illinois State Museum; U.S. Department of Energy; U.S. Department of Education; U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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