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Darwinism at a mall: A child stands in front of a display featuring human evolution at the Kota Kasablanka mall in South Jakarta. The conservation office of Sangiran Early Man Site is hosting exhibits in Jakarta to promote the site as a tourist spot. (JP/Ricky Yudhistira)
Eight-year-old Arifni Azizah sat on a bench in the hall at the Kota Kasablanka shopping center in South Jakarta, her mouth wide open.
The girl was absorbed by a short animated movie telling about the daily life of Java Man, the popular name for Pithecanthropus erectus, or the hominid who was believed to have inhabited the banks of the Solo River in Central Java almost 2 million years ago.
“They look like monkeys!” the little girl in a hijab said to her older sister, Binti Musthofiyah Munawwaroh, who was sitting next to her.
Binti, 17, said that her sister had been curious about what a hominid looked like ever since the fourth grader learned about it in school. Arifni often asked her how they looked for food, what they ate, where they lived and other similar questions.
The older girl, despite having learned about the human ancestors at school, said she sometimes did not know how to answer the heaps of questions the little girl asked her.
“We learned that an exhibition of hominid fossils is being held at Kota Kasablanka from banners along the road yesterday. We then decided to take Arifni here to help her to learn more about them,” Binti explained.
Jakartans wanting to enjoy a long weekend learning about fossils need not visit the Sangiran excavation site located kilometers from Karanganyar and Sragen regencies in Central Java.
Since Wednesday, the conservation office of the Sangiran Early Man Site, has been displaying at the mall around 30 fossils of upright ape men and other ancient creatures found at the excavation site.
Visitors can also take a peek at other fossils on display, such as Australopithecus africanus, Homo habilis, Homo erectus, Homo sapiens, or the remnants of early animals such as a mollusk shells, the tusk of an ancient elephant and a crocodile skull.
However, interested people must be quick, as the exhibition is slated to end on Nov. 18.
Harry Widianto, the head of the conservation office, said that the exhibition was aimed to introduce Jakartans to Java’s ancient life and to disseminate information about fossils found at the excavation site.
Harry said that the exhibition was also aimed to promote the newly-opened Sangiran Museum, which is located at the excavation site. The museum was opened in December 2011 and has had around 130,000 thousand visitors since then.
“If you don’t come to Sangiran, Sangiran will come and greet you. We want to get closer to the people and we won’t just wait for them to come to us,” Harry said in a press release.
Sangiran is one of the key sites for the understanding of the family tree of humanity, and was named as a world heritage site by the UNESCO in 1996.
Ever since the distinguished paleontologist and geologist G.H.R. von Koenigswald found flint tools there in 1934, the site has made an immense contribution to the study of evolution over the past million years by illustrating the evolution of Homo erectus, before the emergence of the modern human.
Fossils of Homo erectus and remnants of their flint tools have been found from time to time since 1936 to the present.
The office is also slated to hold a similar exhibition in Paris Van Java Mall in Bandung, West Java, from Nov. 22 to 25; in Ambarukmo Plaza Mall, Yogyakarta, from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2; in Grand City Mall, Surabaya, East Java, from Dec. 6 to Dec. 9 and in Discovery Shopping Mall, Denpasar, Bali, Dec. 13 to 16.
“We decided to hold the exhibitions at malls because we want to eliminate the impression that museums are dim, shabby, old-fashioned and boring,” Harry said.
Harry said his office expected to attract mall shoppers by putting the fossils next to clothes shops and other lifestyle stores.
Yetty, 42, one of the visitors, said that she happened to be at the mall shopping when she noticed that an exhibition was being held there, and decided to drop by for a visit.
“I was looking for clothes with my daughters and then I saw there was an exhibition at the hall. I think the exhibition is worth visiting not only for my daughters but also for me, as I never knew myself how our ancestors looked,” Yetty said. (aml)