3.5 million year-old skeleton in Addis Ababa museum
The Ethiopian National Museum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is located close to the University of Addis Ababa Graduate School. The museum houses numerous antiquarian relics and archaeological artefacts showing the history of Ethiopia from prehistoric times to the modern day. The most famous exhibit of the museum is the 3.5 million year-old skeleton of "'Lucy," the oldest hominid that has ever been found.
Archaeologists named her for the Beatles song, "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," which played often in the celebrations that followed her discovery. Though not a sacred relic in the traditional sense, this ancient hominid naturally prompts reflection on what it means to be human, a question foundational to any religious or spiritual outlook.
What was it like to be Lucy? Did she ponder the stars?
Lucy was found by Donald Johanson and Tom Gray on November 24, 1974, at Hadar in Ethiopia. Johanson spotted her forearm bone by chance during a surveying trip in the area. After two weeks of careful excavation, 40 percent of a single hominid skeleton had been discovered. ("Hominid" basically means a being in the ape/human family that walks upright.) She was identified as female based mainly on her size and other contextual evidence at Hadar, and has been classified in the species Australopithecus afarensis.
Lucy's skeleton has been dated to just under 3.18 million years old, making her the oldest hominid ever discovered. Fossils can't be dated directly, but the deposits in which they are found can now be dated with the 40Ar/39Ar (Argon-Argon) technique. This is added to other evidence, including the fossils themselves and the site where they were found, to produce a date.
Exhibits in the Museum
Unfortunately, the "real" Lucy can't be seen in Addis Ababa. Because of the rare and fragile nature of fossils, including Lucy's skeleton, moulds are usually made of the originals, which are then used to create detailed copies. These detailed copies are then used for teaching, research, and exhibits in institutions around the world. This is what has been done with Lucy.
The "real" Lucy is stored in a specially constructed safe in the Paleoanthropology Laboratories of the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa. On display in the museum is one of the casts of the original skeleton. Visitors to the Ethiopian National Museum in Addis Ababa can see a replica skeleton laid out by it self in pieces, showing the 40 percent that was discovered.
Also on display is a fascinating reconstructed full skeleton of Lucy that shows her height and stance. When she was alive, Lucy would have been about 3-1/2 feet tall and weighed about 60 to 65 pounds.
Pics and text by Yogesh Pandya, AIR-Correspondent from Addis Ababa