The Virginia Museum of Natural History held a ceremony for the opening of the special exhibit ...

The Virginia Museum of Natural History held a ceremony for the opening of the special exhibit ...

The Virginia Museum of Natural History held a ceremony for the opening of the special exhibit, "Australopithecine", featuring two cast fossil specimens of Australopithecus sediba, a human-like primate and extinct genus of hominid, which provide significant implications to the study of evolution.

Among many in attendance were Virginia's Secretary of Natural Resources, Dough Domenech, Dr. Noel Boaz, renowned anthropologist and curator of the exhibit, and Simon Barber, US Country Manager, Brand South Africa, who represented the Embassy of the Republic of South Africa.

"Australopithecine", which features an adult and a child specimen that are believed to be among the last of their species, will be on display through June 29, 2013 and free for the public to view.

Ever since their discovery in South Africa in 2008, the fossils have become a focal point in evolutionary debate among members of the scientific community. The team of discoverers concluded that they are an evolutionary bridge to the earliest humans, the genus Homo. Extinct for an estimated length of nearly two million years, many within the fields of anthropology hypothesize that as sediba died, Homo was born.

"The museum is excited for the opportunity to host an exhibit of such scientific significance and honored to be one of the very few venues within the United States to showcase it," said Ryan Barber, deputy director of the museum. "We greatly appreciate the efforts of Dr. Noel Boaz, who serves as curator of the exhibit and was instrumental in securing the specimens to be shown at the museum."

The exhibit specimens, which are on loan from the Embassy of the Republic of South Africa, Washington, D.C., allow visitors to investigate the differences between modern humans and Australopithecus sediba, which is believed to only have one third of the brain capacity of anatomically modern humans. From anatomy to lifestyle, the exhibit brings to light the differences between Australopithecus and early Homo species. Additionally, the exhibit explores the possible cause of deaths of the specimens, their relationship to each other, as well as the challenges of preserving them for the future.

The exhibit, located within the museum's public lobby, is free for the public to view during regular museum operating hours of Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with extended hours on Tuesdays until 7 p.m. The lobby, along with the PALEO Café and the Museum Store, are all accessible for free to the general public. General admission rates apply for all other museum exhibit galleries.

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