America after the Ice

Man and Megafauna in the New World

Rekonstruktion der Las-Palmas-Frau (Atelier Daynès)
Rekonstruktion der Las-Palmas-Frau (Atelier Daynès)

THE EXHIBITION

After an overview of the evolution and spread of mankind, the exhibition guides visitors through the geographical regions of America: from the Bering Strait land bridge, which once connected Siberia and Alaska, to North and Middle America, and finally to South America, all the way down to Tierra del Fuego:

  • Beringia – Bridge to the New World
  • North America – America’s Ice Cellar
  • Middle America – Bridge Between Two Worlds
  • South America – Land of Steppes and Savannahs


For every region, the exhibition introduces typical representatives from the animal kingdom during the time of man’s arrival. It also presents the traces which the first humans left in America: tools, cut marks on the bones of captured animals, footprints from the early period of America’s settlement by man, as well as early portraits, the oldest works of art in America. With the life-sized reconstruction of the “Las Palmas Woman”, one of the first Americans takes shape in an impressive way.

The Megafauna

Our exhibition shows preparations and skeletons of animal species that still exist today, such as the musk ox and bison, wolf, puma, and jaguar, but also their now extinct relatives. North and South America were once home to even larger bison species, giant wolves, and sabre-toothed cats. The first humans also encountered true giants on American soil: proboscideans (trunked mammals) and ground sloths of nearly dinosaur-like dimensions, as well as enormous bears. The Glyptodon, an ancestor of the present-day armadillo, reached the dimensions of a Volkswagen Beetle and weighed about 2,000 kg – 40 times the weight of a giant armadillo, the largest species of this animal group that still exists today. The exhibition displays the entire diversity of this fascinating megafauna. Some exhibits are particularly impressive, including the skeleton cast of a short-faced bear – one of the largest bear species of all times! The enormous size is made clear through the direct comparison to specimens of today’s bears. The original skeleton of the sabre-toothed cat is as a much of a highlight of the exhibition as the skull of a gigantic desert ground sloth. The specially made, lifelike model of a Shasta ground sloth appears to bring an animal of the past back to life. Individual excavation sites played a particularly important role in researching this time period. These include the La Brea Tar Pits in California, in which natural asphalt comes to light. This has presented a fatal trap for countless animals for millennia. Representative findings are displayed in the exhibition. Additionally, an excavation situation is depicted in a diorama.

Siedler-Säbelzahnkatze (Smilodon populator))
Siedler-Säbelzahnkatze (Smilodon populator)
Projektilspitzen (v. l. n.r.): Clovis-Spitze, Fundort: Missouri, USA; Clovis-Spitze,Fundort: Kentucky, USA; Fischschwanz-Spitze, Fundort: Fell’s Höhle, Chilenisches Patagonien
Projektilspitzen (v. l. n.r.): Clovis-Spitze, Fundort: Missouri, USA; Clovis-Spitze,Fundort: Kentucky, USA; Fischschwanz-Spitze, Fundort: Fell’s Höhle, Chilenisches Patagonien

The first Americans

The sites of Folsom and Clovis, located in New Mexico, played an extraordinary role in answering the question of when man began to settle in America. Clovis points are the best-known tools from America’s Palaeolithic Age. Their manufacturers were considered to be the first Americans for decades. But in the meantime, experts are certain that humans had populated America several millennia before the Clovis culture. These findings were made possible in part by research at the site of Monte Verde in Chile which is also presented in the exhibition. The oldest petroglyphs discovered in the Cueva de las Manos (cave of hands) in northern Argentina are up to 9,000 years old.
The exhibition journey ends on the island of Tierra del Fuego, south of the South American continent. Several Native American peoples lived here as hunters and gatherers well into the early 20th century, until white settlers took these cultures’ basis of existence. Rare photographic documents of the Tierra del Fuego natives give a face to America’s human history.