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Visting Lucy in Houston

We took a trip down to Houston this weekend to visit the Lucy exhibition. There had been controversy over the tour, given the irreplaceable nature of the skeleton and its frailty, I figured that this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Regardless of whether I thought it a good idea for her to travel or not, she’s in the neighbourhood. So we took a trip down to see her. Lucy is the name given to the most famous Australopithecus afarensis skeleton in existence, which was discovered in Ethiopia in 1974.

I found the display fascinating. Abbie wasn’t thrilled with the long religious history of Ethiopia that preceded the palae- stuff, but I quite enjoyed it (after all, I’m fascinated with history, and there were some pretty cool artefects in there). But it paled in comparison to the main display.

The palaeo portion of the display began with some reconstructions of ancient skulls. There were also display boards (probably aimed at creationists) which gave an explanation of evolution and some idea of the evidence behind it, including an explanation of dating techniques. Based on what I overheard, I’d say it wasn’t needed on the crowd that was there on Saturday. This was followed by a video which explained the discovery and significance of Lucy. It was interesting to hear Johanson talk about how much of an element of chance there was in the discovery – and how easily she might never have been found. After this you went around a corner and saw the actual bones.

The final room of the exhibit included the actual bones, a replica of the skeleton standing upright (much like the image at right), and a replica of what she might have looked like in life. Along the wall there was a history of humans, from Ardipithecus through Homo sapiens. One of the interesting things (which was new to me) was the fact that these species lived in a far wetter environment than was thought in the past – Ardipithecus was apparently a species of wet forests. Another interesting statement (from the film) was the fact that Australopithecus was ancestral to both humans and chimpanzees…an assertion that was new to me (and, as far as I know, not universally accepted).

Seeing the actual skeleton was amazing. I lack words to describe the experience. I am really happy that we went, I’m really happy that I had that experience.

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4 Responses

  1. wow. I’m really jealous! I wish I could have seen this.

  2. She was just a box of bones… and it was so amazing 🙂

  3. From the usual overview
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Australopithecus_afarensis

    “in 2006 scientists Yoel Rak, Avishag Ginzburg, and Eli Geffen carried out a morphological analysis which found that the mandibular ramus (jawbone) of australopithecus afarensis specimen A. L. 822-1 discovered in 2002 closely matches that of a gorilla, and from further studies decided that “australopithecus afarensis” is a member of the robust australopithecines branch of the hominid evolutionary tree and so not a direct ancestor of man.” See http://www.pnas.org/cgi/content/full/104/16/6568 for details

  4. I just returned home from visiting Lucy in Houston, yesterday. You are right in saying “I lack words to describe the experience.” There just isn’t a way to describe what it is like to stand in front of something so incredibly old (3.2 million years) and amazingly like modern human beings. The replica of what she might have looked like was beautiful as were her ancient bones. I will never forget this experience.

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