Back in colonial America, 1607, survival rates were slim - at least for English colonists in Jamestown. After the first year, only 38 of the original 104 were still alive.
Rugged topography. Bad weather. Starvation. Disease. These things and more combined to make for life-threatening conditions. And that's what American Adventure is all about.
The new exhibit at the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences in downtown Raleigh focuses on that first tough year. Visitors pick up a life chart, which features details about actual Jamestown colonists, at the start of the maze-like exhibit and then answer questions or complete tasks.
Your fortunes and life - specifically your health, wealth, morale and food supply - depend on how well you finish the tasks or answer the questions. What's better to drink, for instance, well water, ocean water or river water? Can you survive the terrain by climbing across a rock wall? Could you lasso a sturgeon? Can you identify smells such as beaver musk or sassafras?
Collect points for food, health, wealth and morale for correct answers. Lose them - and get closer to death - with wrong ones.
American Adventure comes from the same designers behind Rainforest Adventure, another maze-like exhibit that was at the natural sciences museum a few years ago. Unlike many museum exhibits, this one is active. There's that rock climbing wall, a short zip line, a hollow "log" to climb through. A small Lincoln Log fort building area is just outside the exhibit's exit.
Along the way, exhibit goers can try their luck at game-show like wheels where you can spin for your fortune. You might get lucky and earn some points. Or, you might "eat some jimsonweed and get violently sick" and lose a bunch of points.
At the end of the exhibit, you can find out the fate of the person featured on the life chart you picked up at the beginning of your journey.
As always, natural sciences museum staff boosted the exhibit with their own materials. You'll find information about Native Americans the colonists encountered at the beginning of the exhibit, including a model of a dugout canoe that visitors are invited to climb into.
You'll also see copies of some paintings by John White, an artist who traveled to present day North Carolina and documented the landscape and people they encountered. There's a timeline that documents Jamestown and other efforts at colonization.
And, finally, with video and words, the exhibit shows how science - through archeology, imaging technology, forensics and remote sensors - is helping us understand what happened here centuries ago.
The American Adventure exhibit definitely is best for preschoolers and grade schoolers. But the added information from the museum - especially about how science helps uncover the mysteries of history - is fascinating. It's a great addition for families bringing in all ages of kids and adults.
American Adventure runs through Sept. 7. Admission is $5 per person and free for museum members.