For a long time the cultural war over evolution was relegated to courtrooms and classrooms. But increasingly the battle is being waged on an unexpected front — the natural history museum. Traditional museums continue with their business of explaining evolution, but have become a bit more explicit in their support of the theory than in the past. After putting its Darwin exhibit on the road to Boston, New York’s American Museum of Natural History opened a new Hall of Human Origins in April. The Texas Memorial Museum will soon be the latest home of the traveling “Explore Evolution” exhibit. And in Chicago, the Field Museum’s “Dinosaurs: Ancient Fossils, New Discoveries” runs through September, “Darwin” until January. Meanwhile, this year also saw the opening of the Creation Museum in Petersburg, Kentucky. Among other claims, the museum proffers that the Earth is just 6,000 years old, and that dinosaurs walked with humans.

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In 1807, Thomas Jefferson, the founding father and amateur paleontologist, sent William Clark to dig for fossils at a place in Kentucky called Big Bone Lick. Exactly 200 years later I’m stopping to see the fossils at Big Bone Lick, which is now a state park commemorating the birthplace of American vertebrate paleontology.

It’s a hot, white-sky day and the park is full of picnickers, fishermen, and campers. There used to be mineral springs here and, before they dried up, Big Bone Lick was a destination for those seeking their medicinal value. Today, the parking lot is full of minivans. A dad is angry because someone spilled soda in the back seat; another one yells at everyone to stop fooling around and get back inside the car already.

The park’s small visitor center is lined with fossils of the animals that roamed the area during the last Ice Age; behind… More…