For my final ELT field trip, I visited the Smithsonian Institute and observed the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. In the Museum of Natural History I visited the “Western Cultures” hall, and in the Museum of American History I visited the “Science in American Life.”
In the Western Cultures Hall in the National Museum of Natural History, I was able to examine the changes of human heights over the past 20,000 years. The average heights of humans 20,000 years ago were 5'10" for men and 5'5" for women. However, in present day the average height for men are 5'7" and 5'2" for women. The transition of the society from hunting and gathering to farming may have caused the overall decrease in heights. While hunters consumed more proteins in their diets, farmers had limited nutrients in their diets. I was able to observe that between 9000 and 5000 B.C the average height of males were 5'6" and females were 5'1". Subsequently, between 5000 and 2000 B.C, males were 5'5" and females were 5'0". Clearly, the general trend for human heights was decreasing.
Writing is one of the most important technological advancement for human beings. At the Western Cultures Hall, I observed three distinct systems of writings. One writing system was displayed through an exhibit of the Pictographs Indus Valley writing system. Visitors were not able to decipher the written message for they were not translated. The scripts were found on seals of animal figures. Some of these animal seals were supposed to represent Hindu gods. Therefore, this type of writing was most likely used for religious purposes. Since the majority of the population were religious, it is probable that most members of the society were able to use this style of writing. Cuneiform was another writing system that used a wedge-shaped symbol used in the Southwest Asian region. It was one of the first types of writing. The characters of cuneiform writing are syllabic, symbolizing groups of sounds, or logographic, referring to an idea. Apparently, Cuneiform was very difficult to learn and was intended for the wealthier and educated inhabitants of that region. For instance the exhibit displayed economic tablets, economic contracts, and school tablet. Therefore, the main audience for such writing would be merchants and scholars. The final writing system was the Egyptian writing system, which consisted of the Egyptian hieroglyphics and Egyptian Demotic script. One exhibit showed a mummy wrapping with hieroglyphs inscribed on it. Hieroglyphs were a phonetic system of formal writing used for inscriptions on mummies, tombs and papyrus. Because of the formality, the intended audiences for such writing were probably the wealthy and educated scholars and priests. In contrast, Egyptian Demotic script is the less formal system of writing. It was used for writing documents and letters. Thus, Demotic script was for the general population of Egypt.
The domestication of plants and animals was another important development in technology. A switch from primarily wild food sources to the use of farming food sources can be seen in an exhibit displaying the Ali-Kosh civilization from 7500 B.C. Ali-Kosh was an early farming village. In this exhibit, a woman is herding animals at their village while another is weaving a basket with straws. Furthermore, another person is grinding grain on a grinding stone. Thus there is an indication of both domestication of animals and cultivation of harvests. Such transition allowed people to settle permanently and even generate social structures within the society.
In the National Museum of American History, I went to the “Science in American Life” exhibit. There, I observed the development of birth control pills, pesticides, and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). The first technology that I saw was the development of the birth control pills. Initially, researchers were studying steroids and experimented with female hormones with the intention of treating infertility and menstrual problems. While doing this they found that progesterone inhibited the release of an egg, thereby regulating female reproduction. Once discovered, the birth control pills were used to decrease the rising birth rates in developing countries. However, in the 1960s, the majority of middle and upper class U.S. women also used the pill. Such development caused a debatable transformation in American life including sexual behaviors and gender roles.
Another technological development was pesticides. Pesticides are toxic substances that are used to kill anything that is considered as pests, including insects. Pesticides have mostly been portrayed as weapons that would efficiently protect plants. However, pesticides can also cause environmental and health problems. Most pesticides usually cause environmental contamination through run-offs. Furthermore, pesticides may even cause cancer.
The last exhibit was on the development of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). MRI emerged from the study of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR). MRI helps physicians to obtain new images of patients’ bodies and is more useful than x-ray machines. There have been rare cases of death and injuries associated with the use of MRI.
Both the “Western Cultures Hall” and the “Science in American Life” tell a story. The “Western Cultures Halls” tell visitors the story of the development of Western cultures throughout different time periods. The hall itself is organized in a timely consecutive fashion to show how humans evolved from hunter and gatherers to farmers. The Average Height of Humans and the development of writing further emphasize the evolvement of humans. Also, “Science in American Life” tells the story of technological advancements of humans. Each exhibit reveals the overall effect that the particular technology had on American life. The exhibits of birth control pills, pesticides, and MRI reveal how humans have advanced thus far.
Anonymous. 30 November 2009. Birth Control Pill for Men? Scientists Find a Hormonal on-and-Off Switch for Male Fertility ScienceDaily. Accessed 30 November 2009.
This article is about a new research on how men may one day have control over their fertility as women does. Scientists have found how and where androgenic hormones work in the testis to control sperm production and male fertility. This ties in with the technological development of birth control pills for women in the 1960s.
Arne Ludwig, Melanie Pruvost, Monika Reissmann, Norbert Benecke, Gudrun A. Brockmann, Pedro Castaños, Michael Cieslak, Sebastian Lippold, Laura Llorente, Anna-Sapfo Malaspinas, Montgomery Slatkin, and Michael Hofreiter. 2009. Coat Color Variation at the Beginning of Horse Domestication. Coat Color Variation at the Beginning of Horse Domestication. Science.324:485. doi:10.1126/science.1172750
This scientific journal is about how wild horses were domesticated in the Ponto-Caspian steppe region in the 3rd millennium B.C. Ancient DNA, spanning the time period between the Late Pleistocene and the Middle Ages, targeted the genes responsible for horse coat colorations. Such research shed light on the timing and place of horse domestication. This topic is relevant to the topic of human transition of hunting and gathering to harvesting and domesticating animals.
Last modified: 28 November 2009