1996 - present
Biographical or Historical Note
- Permanent exhibition. Opened June 1996. Located on Floor 4, Section 2. The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Orientation Center at
the American Museum of Natural History introduces visitors to the key concepts presented in the Museum’s fourth-floor fossil
halls, in which more than 600 specimens, of which 85 percent are 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 (1). The scientific team of paleontology curators, supervisors, and preparators
for the hall installation included Mark Norell, Lowell Dingus, Eugene S. Gaffney, Michael J. Novacek (2, 1995), Jeanne Kelly,
Phil Fraley, and Steven Warsavage (3, 1995, p. 6-10).
The Museum reimagined its fossil halls in the 1990s. Chronologically arranged exhibits were updated to reflect evolutionary
relationships. The Halls of Saurischian and Ornithischian Dinosaurs, the Lila Acheson Wallace Wing of Mammals and Their Extinct
Relatives, which includes the Hall of Primitive Mammals and the Paul and Irma Milstein Hall of Advanced Mammals, the Hall
of Vertebrates Origins, and the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Orientation Center were the result of this rearrangement in exhibition
(4, 1994/96, p. 5).
A theater in the Orientation Center features a video presentation. Narrated by actor Meryl Streep, the film presents the major
evolutionary changes and episodes of diversification and extinction that have shaped the course of vertebrate evolution (1).
From 1996 to 2016, the center display of the hall was a fleshed-out model of a juvenile Barosaurus with skin and other life-like
features. From 2016 to 2020, the Orientation Center features the cast of a 122-foot-long Titanosaur discovered in Argentina
which included five original Titanosaur fossils from 2016-2017 (1).
(1) American Museum of Natural History. “Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Orientation Center," accessed December 23, 2016, http://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent-exhibitions/fossil-halls/miriam-and-ira-d.-wallach-orientation-center.
(2) Browne, Malcolm W. "New Dinosaur Exhibit Underscores Disputes within Paleontology." The New York Times, May 23, 1995.
(3) Milner, Richard. "Bringing Back the Dinosaurs." Natural History, vol. 104, May 1995, pp. 6-10.
(4) American Museum of Natural History. Annual Reports. New York: American Museum of Natural History, 1994-1996.
Information for the hall appears in the following Museum publications:
American Museum of Natural History Annual Report, 1994-1996, page 5.
American Museum of Natural History Official Guides for years 1993 (page 50); 2001 (page 63)
- New York
AMNH: Floor 4, Section 2.