- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 25, 2002

The scientific theory of evolution explores humans' appearance on the planet through the fossilized remains of ancestors that trace development back 4 million years.
An organization looking to present the latest evidence on the study of human origins and paleoanthropology has created a cyber-stop to serve its goal of making these topics easy to understand and more accessible to the general public. Acting as a multimedia oasis of knowledge, the site not only enlightens, but also recently won a Webby Award the Oscar of the Internet world for its dazzling use of innovative design.
Becoming Human
Site address: www.becominghuman.org
Creator: Arizona State University's Institute of Human Origins (www.asu.edu/clas/iho/) is a nonprofit research organization dedicated to the recovery and analysis of the fossil evidence for human evolution. It worked with design studio Terra Incognita to produce the pages.
Creator quotable: "The decision to create becominghuman.org was driven by the insatiable thirst humans have to understand their origins. The major goal of the Web site was to provide insight into the origins of humankind using imaginative and scientifically accurate presentations combined with a user-friendly and captivating Web experience. The site was designed to bridge the gap between scientific research in human origins and the general lack of public understanding of the subject," says Donald Johanson, director of the Institute of Human Origins.
Word from the Webwise: Pull out the primordial walking stick and get ready for an intellectual stroll down the hominid skeleton highway as a host of specialists explain the reason humans look and act as they do. Through the use of technology once reserved for stand-alone CD-ROM simulations, the Institute of Human Origins gives an audio, visual and text-based presentation that works marvelously within the high-bandwidth world of the Internet.
An opening screen in shades of brown that begins the journey is enlivened by a tidy array of activities, photographs and breaking news items presented within an interactive window.
The payoff to the site can be found in "Becoming Human: The Documentary," which is hosted by Mr. Johanson best known for discovering the 3.18 million-year-old remains of Australopithecus afarenis (nicknamed Lucy) that shed significant light on the split between humans and the African ape.
Broken into four major segments Evidence, Anatomy, Lineages and Culture the online documentary traces the hominid from Africa to the spread of its current version, Homo sapiens, and its complex culture around the world.
Each roughly 10-minute segment looks a bit like a fancy slide show with crisp images, simple effects, a musical score and a narrative peppered with words from science luminaries such as paleocologist Kaye Reed, paleoanthroplogist Nina Jablonski and paleontologist Alan Walker.
After a quick introduction, visitors should jump right into the Evidence segment to get an overview of Hadar Ethiopia and Mr. Johanson's Lucy and find a Related Exhibits menu bar tempting the noggin with further information.
Available for all the documentary segments, the miniexhibits range from explanation of the scientific method to what can be learned from footprints to the ritual of burying the dead. Any word that content developers consider a bit too difficult for the reader has a pop-up definition window to enlighten.
Rounding out the site is a resource spot containing 27 specific areas of bibliographic references with outside links, plus a News & Views section with items such as an article on the possibility that dinosaurs and primates coexisted and a text-based interview with prehistoric archaeologist Olga Soffer.
Ease of use: Visitors with a cable modem or better will truly appreciate the site, but those with slower dial-up connections may get frustrated. Viewers will need a computer with 64MB of RAM, a current browser, Macromedia's Flash Player 5 plug-in and Adobe's Acrobat Reader to thoroughly enjoy all of its nuances.
Don't miss: Two great extras really give the site a museumlike quality. First, visitors can have fun viewing 12 Hominid Profiles, which not only offer a baseball-card-like perspective of the beings, but also give the ability to rotate each skull by 360 degrees. Second, the Learning Center area provides lesson plans for teachers and offers three gamelike simulations the best being Building Bones.
In Building Bones, visitors examine the bone structure of man vs. ape to reveal how walking upright became a reality. Players must assemble the skeletons of two creatures by dragging bone remains into either chimpanzee or human spaces. Correct placement reveals a window with information relevant to the bipedal investigation.
Comprehension level: Content developers say Becoming Human should appeal to visitors from fourth-graders to college undergraduates.
Overall grade: A+
Remember: The information on the Internet is constantly changing. Please verify the advice on the sites before you act to be sure it's accurate and updated. Health sites, for example, should be discussed with your own physician.

Have a cool site for the science or technology fan? Write to Joseph Szadkowski at Webwise, The Washington Times, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; call 202/636-3016; or send an e-mail message ([email protected]).

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