About 65-mil­lion years ago, a giant mete­or hit the Earth, spark­ing plan­et-wide vol­canic erup­tions and the extinc­tion of the dinosaurs.

The Earth has been rocked by five mass extinc­tions. Today, some sci­en­tists believe that we are in the midst of the sixth mass extinc­tion – with humans one of the key agents of change.

With the extinc­tion of the dinosaurs ear­ly mam­mals began to thrive in the hot, trop­i­cal blan­kets of for­est that grew over Africa, Europe and Asia.

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Our exhib­it on sus­tain­abil­i­ty is a thought-pro­vok­ing one

This habi­tat was ide­al for a class of mam­mal called the pri­mates, which lived most­ly in trees. The pri­mates spread into Africa and Asia, devel­op­ing from small lemur-like crea­tures into mon­keys and apes.

The Himalayas, a mas­sive 8km (5 mi) high, 2,500km (1,500 mi) long moun­tain chain, formed with­in the past 30-mil­lion years, after the Indi­an sub-con­ti­nent slammed into Asia, due to the process of tec­ton­ic shift.

This cat­a­clysmic event result­ed in a num­ber of envi­ron­men­tal respons­es. For instance, it brought about mon­soons in Asia, which had a knock-on effect in parts of Africa by dry­ing out air cur­rents and decreas­ing rain­fall. This and oth­er glob­al con­ti­nen­tal shifts caused the world, and East Africa in par­tic­u­lar, to become cool­er and dri­er. Expand­ing savan­nahs began replac­ing forests in East Africa, and African ani­mals, includ­ing the ear­ly pri­mates that were our ances­tors, had to adapt to their new habitat.

Our ances­tors climbed down from the trees and walked out into the savan­nah in response to their chang­ing envi­ron­ment. This was a giant evo­lu­tion­ary leap in the his­to­ry of humankind.

Our abil­i­ty to make tools has devel­oped to such an extent that we are now more able than ever to try and shape our envi­ron­ment to suit ourselves.

But we are some­times fool­ish mas­ters” of our world, increas­ing, rather than decreas­ing envi­ron­men­tal risks. Dis­as­ters include dis­ease, earth­quakes, vol­canic erup­tions, tsunamis and cli­mate change can be exac­er­bat­ed by our actions or lack of them.

Return to the Exhi­bi­tion Guide.