The paintings of a 35,000-year-old man and size 8 footprints made 3.6 million years ago are among the ways of "Discovering Prehistoric People" in a new exhibit at the National Geographic.

The new permanent installation opened to the public this week in National Geographic's Explorers Hall. It is a model of economy -- it covers 2 million years in four dioramas and another 12 million years with displays and a seven-minute video film on the search for man's ancestors.

The footprints are more celebrated in anthropological circles than those of the Hollywood stars in the cement in front of Mann's, once Grauman's Chinese Theater.

They were left by two hominids -- cousins if not direct forebears of man -- as they walked across volcanic ash about 3.6 million years ago in Tanzania, East Africa. Anthropologist Mark Leakey uncovered the footprints recently and they have been seen only by visitors at the discovery site until National Geographic cast fiberglass molds for its new exhibit.

The short people who made the footprints faced many dangers in their short lives. Four round impressions in the volcanic ash have been identified as rabbit tracks.

The original flower children from 60,000 years ago are shown at a sad moment in one of the four dioramas in the exhibit.

There a grieving Neanderthal family lays flowers on the grave of a child. Anthoropologists have found pollen in Neanderthal graves as evidence these prehistoric people may have practiced on ancient flower-laying ritual.

But the most stunning diorama in the exhibit is that of the Cro-magnon artist at war in the dusky light of a cave, stenciling his handprint on the cave's wall, possibly as signature to the painting of a hunting scene nearby.

The fiberglass with its rock walls was cast down to the lichen and other plants, from a limestone cave in Lebanon, Va.

The prehistoric people themselves were sculpted with careful attention to anthropological evidence gleaned from skulls and other relics.

Paul Wegner, the sculptor, did add his own identity signature. He gave his face to the caveman artist of 35,000 years ago, with swelling cheeks, blows pigment through a hollow reed to make a stencil of his hand.

"Discovering Prehistoric People" replaces an older exhibit on "Early Man."