Lucy brings culture, insight to humanity

The Houston Museum of Natural Science made history Friday as the first American museum to host Lucy, the fossil discovered in Ethiopia in 1974 that drastically helped humans understand their history.

Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia is primarily about the fossil, but the exhibition also incorporates various facets of Ethiopia’s culture and history as well. The long entry lines for the exhibition prove what Curator of Anthropology Dirk Van Tuerenhout said about the event: "If you are able to showcase an original fossil, then you have a point of attraction that will bring in the most number of people."

The opening night celebrated the arrival of Lucy in the United States and also featured Ethiopian cuisine in the reception area. The museum’s gift shop also has plenty of items from Ethiopia for sale in association with Lucy’s Legacy, such as woven baskets and jewelry, and Ethiopian music plays on the store’s speakers. These were some of many factors that made the exhibition more than just a fossil display.

The preludes to Lucy were outstanding. A timeline on the wall mapped out human history and showed that the earliest fossil in the human lineage was the Ardipithecus kadabban, which resided in East Africa 5 million years ago, and that Lucy, whose scientific name is Australopitheus afarensis, lived 3.2 million years ago. After this detailed timeline, a video was shown that enlightened the audience on Ethiopia’s history. The video was about Ethiopia’s early history and how the world’s earliest and largest group of people were living there, making it the "Cradle of Mankind." The cities in the country are also heavily involved with the history of two of the world’s largest religions.

Aksum, the kingdom that is the "Christianity capitol" of Ethiopia, is a historical city that is said to contain the Ark of the Covenant containing the Ten Commandments. Aksum also features more than 100 towering obelisks, one of which is 98 feet long. But Aksum isn’t the only holy religious city in Ethiopia. Harrar is a city that has historically been a prime commercial source of Ethiopia’s world-renowned coffee, but most notably it is the fourth holiest city in Islam, behind only Mecca and Medina.

Harrar has 82 mosques, including three from the 10th century. The video’s narrator summed it up the best: "This is a place of untold wonders, natural beauty and great history. This is Ethiopia."

After seeing this video, visitors walked into a room featuring hundreds of historical Ethiopian artifacts, such as paintings, manuscripts and jewelry. Both Christian and Islamic artifacts were included. Then, it was time for the main event. A video about Lucy was shown, and in a clip, Donald C. Johanson, the paleontologist who discovered the historical fossil in 1974, explained how significant the implications of its discovery were: "It transformed our view of how we viewed humans. We discovered that humans walked upright first, and developed brains later."

What is most amazing, though, is that this fossil that "resolved centuries-old scientific arguments" was found by luck: Johanson just happened to barely see the elbow bone in the sand at the last second, right when he was going home after a long day of research.

The video was followed by the actual fossil, which is in the center of a room in a glass casing. Houston is the first stop for Lucy in her journey through America. The fossil is also known as Dinkenesh, which means "wonderful thing" in Amhariq, Ethiopia’s national language. We know it as Lucy because Johanson and his peers were celebrating during the night of their discovery and listening to The Beatles’ "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," and the name stuck.

Lucy’s Legacy is a culturally enlightening and historical exhibit, and well worth the $20 regular admission price. Tickets are $12 for students. Lucy will remain in Houston until April 2008 before moving on to other American cities.

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