One hundred years later, evolution continues for Smithsonian's Natural History museum

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You could say that it was a hunting expedition that captured the whole world: In 1909, Theodore Roosevelt embarked on an East African safari, with financial help from the Smithsonian Institution, and ended up collecting more than a thousand specimens, including several hundred big game.

This hunting expedition would cause an uproar these days, but back in Roosevelt's time these trophies were objects of unabashed public curiosity. At about the same time, the Smithsonian was building a new museum to house its expanding collections. The Roosevelt bounty, including several Atlas lions, became one of the first exhibitions for the U.S. National Museum Building, now the National Museum of Natural History, when it opened in 1910.

Flash forward a hundred years, and it's now the most popular museum in the country, having hosted 7.4 million visitors in 2009 and passing the Air and Space Museum. Indeed, it was the second-most-visited museum in the world last year (after the Louvre) and the most popular museum devoted to science on the planet.

No small part of the museum's continuing appeal is its subject matter, which has meant that the Natural History museum has had to strive constantly to evolve as advances in science are made. Since 2000, for instance, the museum has updated several halls without ever closing, and on March 17, the anniversary of its opening, the museum will unveil its brand-new Hall of Human Origins. Adjacent to the newish Mammal and Ocean halls, Human Origins will cover 15,000 square feet, including a large time tunnel tracing human history. The exhibition space will have 75 cast reproductions of skulls, covering the last 6 million years. The displays will include dozens of fossils, including rare originals....

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