Miriam and Ida D. Wallach Orientation Center
The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Orientation Center introduces visitors to the key concepts presented in the Museum’s fourth-floor fossil halls, in which more than 600 specimens, 85 percent of them actual fossils, are arranged as a giant “family tree” defined by evolutionary relationships. The “trunk” is denoted by a thick black line on the floor, which starts in this hall and continues through the Hall of Vertebrate Origins, the David H. Koch Dinosaur Wing, and the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing of Mammals and Their Extinct Relatives.
This main line is punctuated by branching points, which represent the evolution of new physical characteristics and direct visitors to alcoves with fossils of closely related animals. This method of grouping organisms, called cladistics, was pioneered with the help of Museum scientists.
A 200-seat theater in the Orientation Center features a video presentation, narrated by actor Meryl Streep, about the major evolutionary changes and episodes of diversification and extinction that have shaped the course of vertebrate evolution. Opposite the theater is a life-sized, fleshed-out reconstruction of a juvenile Barosaurus, the skeleton of which is on view in the Museum’s Theodore Roosevelt Rotunda. The inclusion of this speculative reconstruction is intended to suggest central themes of the fossils halls: what science can reveal about long-extinct life forms and what mysteries remain unsolved.