Ngaren means “the beginning”.
It is the beginning of a journey.
A marvelous one that began a long time ago.
The human journey.
A journey into the past.
In search of your origins.
To discover your identity.
Your place within nature.
It is a journey to understand who you are and where you’re heading.
A journey of intellectual enlightenment.
Full of amazing encounters.
A journey into the universe to shape the mind.
We are part of nature. We are all connected.
You sit in the dark. You travel into the universe, the Milky Way, our solar system, and then finally onto our little blue planet: Earth. You are immersed in the beauty and fragility of the planet’s ecosystems. A picture of yours, taken by staff upon check-in, is projected on the screen: you are there, you are part of this story.
Welcome to Ngaren where the human journey begins.
A spacious atrium with wide glass windows overlooks the Great Rift Valley, a key landmark for the human journey. It is beautiful and magnificent - the result of natural processes, that happened during tens of millions of years.
Your eyes need adjusting to the light. You feel tiny in front of such a magnificent view. You feel a strong connection between you and the environment. There is a dialogue between inside and outside, between the present and the past. Suddenly, while looking at the landscape, the scene changes. You are still there, but there are apes, giant warthogs and strange elephants. You are travelling back in time, two million years back, when early hominins were roaming across the valley - volcanoes fuming in the distance. You see a two-legged figure walking. He looks human…
It is your first encounter with your ancestors.
Photo: John Gurche ©2020
You want to learn more about the environment
The Great Rift Valley is a fossil hotspot. Amazing evidence of the origin and evolution of humankind in East Africa erodes from its sediments. At Ngaren you can learn how scientists reconstruct climate, environment and ecology in the past, and see how the Rift in front of you was formed. Put your phone against the mountain across: you see the build-up of layers that formed over many millions of years. There is much more to play with. Sit and have a coffee and samosa in between your playful learning!
You enter rooms filled with exhibits of many different sorts. You start to investigate the history of life, experiment with evolution, and follow the tracks of human migrations to every corner of the world.
You begin to realize that humanity’s story appears at the very end of life’s evolutionary journey that began billions of years ago. What we find in the geological, paleontological, and genetic record are snapshots of something that happened a long time ago.
The present is your key to the past.
A FIELD OF PANCAKES
3.7 billion years - 541 million years ago
This is a gallery to immerse you in life, far before your life on Earth. You are greeted by stromatolites, fossils trapping the earliest forms of life: bacteria.
All life past and present descends from a universal common ancestor. You fast forward to more than 500 million years ago, the biggest diversification in animals of all times: the Cambrian explosion. There is a creature with a rudimentary spinal column. It is one of your earliest ancestors. Look, there it swims!
A DINOSAUR IN AFRICA
225 - 66 million years ago
You are face to face with the largest predatory dinosaur of all times - and it is African!
Spinosaurus welcomes you to this grand gallery. A giant river monster bigger than T. rex, it was the first dinosaur that took to the water, evolving a croc-like snout and a phenomenal tail to thrust in river waters and hunt enormous fishes. You are one hundred million years back in time when Africa and the whole world were very different from today. Your journey across African dinosaurs is full of real size fossils and replicas of unique specimens. And VR immersions too!
Despite their success, dinosaurs became extinct. Their demise opened up for mammals’ success. How successful are we now? Are we here to stay or are we next in becoming extinct?
A WHALE IN THE DESERT
23 - 5 million years ago
You are looking at the fossilized snout of a whale found more than 700 km inland from the present coastline of the Indian Ocean, at an elevation of 600 m above the sea level. Today this is a semi-desert in West Turkana: how is that possible?
Where there is only sand today, millions of years ago, a beaked whale managed to mistakenly enter a river from the ocean and got stranded in shallow waters. The climate was very different from today: it was wet and green. When the whale was swimming in the river, there was an extraordinary diversity of apes. You are in the Miocene.
Everything has changed. Extinction throughout. This is evolution.
A SKELETON OF A BOY -
7 million - 1 million years ago
You are face to face with Turkana Boy! He lived about 1.5 million years ago. You learn that he is about 10 years old. He is quite tall and lean, walking on two feet. His braincase is smaller than yours, yet bigger than older hominins.
There is something else: he touches your heart. The Turkana boy’s skeleton tells you a story of disease and compassion: a malformation of the spine was probably the cause of his death, his community must have taken care of him, as he would not have survived until the age of ten otherwise. Compassion was part of Turkana Boy’s world as much as it is of yours. Compassion is part of our successful adaptation to the environment as a species.
But ... wait a minute: who are all the others? Models of early hominins are all over the room!
Africa is humanity’s homeland. We are all one family.
A FACE WITH A CHIN -
Last million years
What makes you human? How old is your species? Real size replicas of the earliest fossil skulls of anatomically modern humans from Morocco and East Africa welcome you to the story of your direct ancestors during the past 300,000 years.
You are discovering the ‘out of Africa’ story, along with what was happening ‘in Africa’ meanwhile. You are realizing that what makes humans different in their outside look reveal different adaptations along our evolutionary journey to all latitudes and continents. You are finding out that we were not the only human species roaming the world until quite recently. All living humans today, though, share a common ancestor in Africa.
We are all Africans!
Evolutionary Game Room
Experience your humanness through games
What happens if you take out a bee from your environment? What happens if you don’t collaborate? You test it live. You have seen how much you and all life are dependent from the environment and each other. You realize that we are all interconnected, wired in the web of life with animals, plants, and each other. You learn that human hyper-sociality is a strength, a beautiful product of evolution, a plus when speaking of adaptation.
You experience compassion and empathy for the natural world and perceive the “human risk” in a fictional, but effective way.
You realize that being cooperative and helpful is an evolutionary advantage.
There are things
we can still change.
Photo: Susan MacPherson ARPS
Appreciate nature with all your senses
You close your eyes and relax. Enjoy the sounds of nature and smell some of its fragrances. A soundscape brings you to different habitats: grasslands, mountains, deserts, temperate and tropical rainforests, oceans, and freshwaters. Each habitat vibrates of an orchestra of animals and plants, of storms and breeze, streams, and waterfalls. Sounds of a healthy planet.
Value human cultural diversity
You are in a room with immense treasures. You think – this is what makes us interesting: our diversity, expressed through a variety of languages, behaviors, and cultures.
The walls are filled with images of cultures from all over the world, some of whom are endangered. Different voices speak all the world’s languages. It is not Babel. It is the world you live in and it is wonderful.
Before you leave Ngaren, there are great minds and ideas to meet. You can hear people presenting ideas about food security, sustainable energy, human rights, education, innovation, and scientific research. You will meet Ngaren staff, visitors, and scientists to talk to and answer your questions.
Every journey starts with
a single step…
Although your life-changing journey into Ngaren has ended, your personal journey continues.
Wherever you go, whatever you do, you will
leave traces behind.
Now you know that you are part of a
big family of humans.
Every small action you take towards a better future for yourself and those around you benefits this beautiful planet. And it will benefit us all.
For, we are all one.