Lucy is going on tour

The remains of Lucy, the famous fossil australopithecine, are going to be touring the US for the next few years. Start lining up. It’s opening in Houston.

The six-year tour will also go to Washington, New York, Denver and Chicago. Officials said six other U.S. cities may be on the tour. But they would not release the names, saying all the details had not yet been ironed out.

Minneapolis, maybe? I hope? Otherwise I’m going to have to make a trip to Chicago.

No word yet on whether the Answers in Genesis museum near Cincinnati will be bidding on the exhibit.


  1. gravitybear says

    Oh, HELL YEAH! That’s worth a trip to Chicago, but I hope that they come to the Twin Cities. Probably the Science Museum in St Paul, though.

  2. says

    I hope you’re right gravitybear, I’m a big fan of Lucy. But Chicago’s Field Museum is definitely worth any trip for itself, too.

  3. says

    Maybe we’ll lure in a few fence-sitting creationists who believe they’re going to a show of relics from the Lucille Ball Show.

    Yeah, I’ll have to check out this one. The protestors could be a hoot.

  4. craig says

    Well I doubt it will be getting here, Tampa. If it did Rhonda Storms would probably threaten to close the museum.

  5. Mike says

    Why would the AIG museum want Lucy? She’s either just a human or just an ape and obviously was drowned in The Flood just like many another sinner (or animal, as the case may be). And if we evolved from monkeys, why are there still monkeys!

  6. says

    Almost worth a trip to Houston. Almost.

    But the early hominid fossil I really want to see is the Dikika baby. She’s probably not ready for display yet, but there’s a great article on her in the latest (Nov 2006) National Geographic (which I’m sure most of you have already seen).

  7. Siamang says

    If they have her at the Field Museum, maybe they can mount her so she’s riding Sue!


  8. Scott Hatfield says

    I’m not sure which concerns me more, that 39 percent polled do not ‘believe’ in evolution or that 61 percent evidently think they do. Even more ominous, the spectre of AIG taking *any* sort of interest whatsoever in what is arguably one of mankind’s most venerated artifacts.

    One hopes that security is good. If one fanatic can vandalize the Pieta, then….

    (On a related note, PZ, it might be a good idea to start quietly censoring comments that talk about where folk like Dawkins live. I’ve seen a couple of those of late, and I think the better part of valor would be to not give anyone bearing a pitchfork directions to the castle.)

  9. Enlightenment Skeptic says

    Hello PZ and everyone else. I wonder can I go off topic for one moment?

    Let’s have a rather more intellectually stimulating topic than desktop images or museum exhibitions.

    For example, God or other universal or absolute ideas cannot offer answers to the question of the meaning of life, and thus any answer has to come from within human life, which is finite and capable of error. What kind of answer can that be? Well let’s not be too cocksure of our answers to that question or indeed our ability to even satisfactorily answer the question. We must be somewhat skeptical of our answer as they might be wrong (isn’t that the scientific ideal – our views are always subject to revision as the evidence changes – so we never can be fully sure we have the ‘final answer’ – we simply cannot check every swan to see if the are in fact all white).

    Questions like “What is justice” “What are my ethical duties towards others?” cannot be answered in a test-tube. Some thoughtful humility might go a long way. Nor does the disembodied ‘golden rule’ get us too far in so far we exist in a social nexus consisting of a multitude of power asymmetries between agents and if one is overwhelming powerful agent (economically, politically etc.) then the probability of that powerful agent being at the wrong end of the much weaker agents power/decision is extremely low.

    History and the present world are seemingly full of violence and unspeakable cruelty on one hand, and mass apathy with regard to the suffering of others. Consider the example of the insouciance of the US government with regards to how many Iraqis have been killed and maimed as a result of their policies – it’s not even considered a legitimate question. Furthermore the vast majority of American citizens seem to utterly unconcerned – if they are bothered, by anything, it is only by how many Americans have died or the costs involved etc., but not concerned in any deeper sense.

    If we make our own meanings (as we must as there is no God), that means we are entirely free not to do so. Which also means that our connection to meaning–and to ethics–is minimal, fragile, and refutable. Is there any rational reason to hope that good can emerge out of human affairs? Can we hope for genuine justice and equality for all?

    The thought that if ‘only’ we got rid of religion these questions will go away is the height of philosophical and historical naiveté. Why well because it treats religion ‘theologically’ as if it was some autonomous force – a ghostly phenomenon of some sort that possesses ‘us’ – if not individually then collectively within history. In fact all religion is simply human activity so that its ‘sins’ are our collective sins. Equally racism and eugenics, genocide, the grinding poverty for billions (all justified by appeals to the ‘rational’ – i.e. the free market ‘rationally allocates resources’ or so we are told – anyone pointing out that our economic life lives billions destitute is therefore ipso facto irrational) are our collective crimes as a species. How do we face up to the accepting responsibility for and remedying the horrors we inflict on each other?

    So should our rational response be that in the ethos of the first Enlightenment we should be skeptical about nature of our beliefs now and in doing so go on to achieve more radical and deeper second Enlightenment (accepting that the Enlightenment project is still too thin and incomplete).
    Alternatively the most rational response might be to accept it’s ‘dog eat dog’ and fuck over anyone you can when it’s to your advantage and find your pleasures where you can.

    Serious I’m interested in what everyone thinks a rational world would look like and what they define as rationality.

  10. JJR says

    Tee-hee hee–I get first dibs! Well done HMNS! (I live in the Houston area) AWESOME… :-)

    (Enlightenment Skeptic…or Skeptic of Enlightenment —methinks the latter…a theist in philosophers robes whose clumsy rhetorical sleight-of-hand should be fooling no one with a modicum of education and good sense; –sorry mate, not takin’ the bait, go bugger off…)

  11. says

    Skeptic wrote:

    “Serious I’m interested in what everyone thinks a rational world would look like and what they define as rationality.”

    For years I was tormented by these kinds of questions. My angst ended when I found out what life was and realized that the answers to these questions just didn’t matter. It’s like the evolution creation debate: It’s an interesting mental exercise but matters little in our lives.

    Oh, you want to know the answer? OK….
    Life is just going about your business, and getting there is no more difficult than putting one foot in front of the other.

    Stop wasting your time on questions that have no answers and situations over which you have no control. The only thing in life that you can change is your own attitude towards it.

    Come on a trip with me along Arizona route 89 from Marble Canyon to Jacob Lake:

  12. Enlightenment Skeptic says

    Interesting so far…. Life is about getting on with my business – and if I’m a general in the US military and my business is ordering the dropping of cluster bombs – well that’s just my business isn’t it? Hmm that’s a really advanced and ‘rational’ ethical framework you have there isn’t it? If you really think that Charlie Wagner then I will politely decline your invite to share a road trip. (I don’t tend to hang out with self-declared amoral philistines – no offense but given such an account ‘your business’ might include doing any number of unpleasant things as you don’t seem to value any form of ethical discourse).

    Incidentally I’m not that excited to see ‘Lucy’ – it’s a peice of very interesting and important scientific evidence not a ‘holy’ relic. I don’t need to see Lucy in person in order to satisfy any ‘longing’ and it would serve no purpose in further understanding what the Lucy fossil represents in evidential terms.

    And I’m not a theist – I’m as much of an atheist as anyone who posts here and I’m someone with a PhD in evolutionary biology and I embrace a naturalistic ontology, anti-clericism, secularism etc. To be told to “stop asking questions” is a funny sort of response from those committed to rational open-ended inquiry. Such questions as to the nature of ethics, morality, and justice seemed to be a major concern of individuals such as Aristotle, Spinoza, Hume, Kant, Shakespeare etc. Have we finished the discussion as a species on those issues? Or are they non-issues – as they scarily seem to be for Charlie?

    Anyway away to my lab I’ll be back later…

  13. Hank says

    Enlightenment Skeptic: Because of long experience many of us have with religious idiots (who are notorious liars) asking apparently innocent questions, sometimes the bar for convincing people into deep discussion is fairly high here.

    Also, bear in mind that this thread was originally not about what you’re asking, so you can’t really expect to command instant attention. Imagine that you’ve entered someone else’s playground, and a game was already in progress.

    Try not to fire back so quickly or so indignantly. You’ve asked your question. Now wait a bit. See what happens.

  14. says

    When I saw the Dead Sea Scrolls (replicas) in Chicago years ago, there was significant security that had to be passed through. Same with the Holocaust Museum in D.C. I sure hope this exhibit gets the same care because there are people who are insane enuf to think they will do mankind a favor by destroying such inconvenient artifacts.

  15. Enlightenment Skeptic says

    I don’t think I was indignant, just providing relevant information…and I think I tried to objectively describe Charlie’s ethical philosophy (perhaps he is a nihilist???). I also contributed my reasons for not wanting to spend time and money to see Lucy.

    Finally I was prompted to post ‘off topic’ as reading the post on a number of threads (especially those in relation to Dawkins’ latest book) in which a number of contributors implied or stated that all knowledge is derived scientifically, or that the conceptualization of the rational and rationality is self-evident (without any explanation why or how or offering any coherent account or evidence for the claim), or worst still that effectively we live in a Panglossian “best of all possible worlds” hence cannot and do not have any responsibility to the global victims of ‘injustice’ (as it is the natural order and outcome of a ‘rational’ system hence does not involve injustice or the violation of ethical standards – apparently unbounded instrumental rationality is a ‘given’ for some).

    It’s somewhat sad to observe the hostility to even raising the issues :( and I do want to know what people think about these serious issues – we are the collective and individual authors of our own ethical standards – without insults everywhere on the page.

  16. says

    A little bit of disconcerting news . . . people at the museums supposedly on this tour still haven’t heard a single word about it . . . could somebody have spoken too soon?

  17. says


    a number of contributors implied or stated that all knowledge is derived scientifically

    I would think that most empirically-minded people would quite liberally consider the definition of “scientifically” to include the quotidian “trial-and-error” sorts of learning processes which are at the core of the scientific method. If I am correct in that assumption, then yes, most, if not all, knowledge is acquired scientifically.

    the conceptualization of the rational and rationality is self-evident (without any explanation why or how or offering any coherent account or evidence for the claim)

    Rationality is simply doing “Y” when given the conditions “X; if X then Y.” It is a tool by which arguments are evaluated, not an argument in and of itself. In other words, it is not self-evident, but rather it is defined axiomatically.

    that effectively we live in a Panglossian “best of all possible worlds” hence cannot and do not have any responsibility to the global victims of ‘injustice’

    Panglossian optimism is neither rational nor scientific, it’s just the Anthropic Principle dressed up in a fancy suit. It’s hands-in-the-air nihilism and solipsistic, navel-gazing apathy presented with a positive spin.

    I do want to know what people think about these serious issues – we are the collective and individual authors of our own ethical standards

    I can’t think of any way to arrive at an ethical standard other than to generate it ourselves.

  18. says

    I just read about how Lucy won’t be stopping at the Smithsonian, as the staff and scientists at the Smithsonians think that Lucy, herself, should stay (safe) in Ethopia, and that a cast of her bones, instead, should be on tour.

  19. says

    I got a date with a girl named Lucy. We’ll do oysters on the half shell and vodka shots.

    Houston. It’s the place to be.

    Doc Bill
    Houston, Texas

  20. alan says

    Before seeing the exhibit, I highly recommend the book “Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind” by Donald Johanson, the lead paleoanthropologist who found her. I think it would make viewing the exhibit much more compelling, particularly if you are not overly familiar with Lucy.

    Its a wonderful read in narrative form, that takes you on the journey as if you were there. Along the way, it familiarizes you with the process of paleontology and how it is so tightly woven with geology, chemistry and zoology — even the study of teeth.

    Though many new hominid fossils have been discovered since the book was written, the book holds up wonderfully and should (for those of us not field) provide a memorable insight into the world of paleontology.

  21. says

    I’ve had two “religious” experiences in my life.

    One was walking around in Catal Hoyuk, and seeing the excavations. (Oldest known human city at the time.)

    The other was viewing Lucy’s bones in the basement of the museum in Ethiopia.


    I would recommend either.

  22. Andre Izecson says

    When I was a kid, my parents took me to the Natural History Museum in NY. I remember entering a room and suddenly – WHOA! There she was! I recognized her skeleton from far – Lucy! It was a fantastic emotion! I was really touched by that. I still remember it vividly. It was one of the most “scientifically emotional” moments of my life.

    Some years later I found out it was a replica. She had never left Ethiopia. That didn’t spoil the moment, though…

    I’m glad US kids will be able to feel the thrill I felt! This time for real!

    Andre Izecson
    São Paulo, Brazil

  23. cserpent says

    A colleague e-mailed me about the travelling Lucy exhibit “Lucy takes a road trip” a couple of days ago. Almost immediately, another colleague on the the list wrote: gee, I’m surprised she could see over the steering wheel. I’m glad I wasn’t drinking my coffee or I’d still be cleaning my monitor.

  24. Joshua says

    Come on, this would make a great companion to the Body Worlds exhibit at the Museum of Science right now. ;)

  25. Pygmy Loris says

    I’m so EXCITED! and I just can’t hide it!

    Seriously, I cannot wait to see the real Lucy. I know that a high quality cast is similar, but there’s something about seeing the real thing that really makes me want to drive six hours to see it.

    BTW Alan, teeth are at the very core of mammalian paleotology. The majority of mammal fossils are teeth. Many species are known only from teeth (like Gigantopithecus until recently). Sorry for the pickiness, just a subject close to my heart.

  26. Rich Clayton says

    Fantastic. I hope I get a chance to see the old girl.

    But seriously… I’m kinda worried that there might be people in this country deranged enough to think that vandalizing or destroying the remains might be “doing the Lord’s work.”

  27. Xanthir, FCD says

    Sorry, Enlightenment Skeptic, you lost me when you said:

    Alternatively the most rational response might be to accept it’s ‘dog eat dog’ and fuck over anyone you can when it’s to your advantage and find your pleasures where you can.

    Textbook anti-rationalist view of atheist morality. “Evolution is about the stronger beating the weaker, so you atheists want a world where you take what you can and fuck everyone else!”

    No. Cooperation is a virtue – it’s literally a win-win situation. Altruism helps everyone. Smiling at a stranger in the street makes them feel better with no effort on your part.

    If you want a rational morality, the first place to look is game theory. It is arguable that game theory is indirectly applied through the evolution of instincts; those that apply GT correctly end up doing better than those who live by “I’m stronger, so I get what I want.” Study the prisoner’s dilemna – one simple example of an entire class of simple and interesting problems that actually apply to real life all the time. The best solution only occurs when both people cooperate. The “Fuck you, I’m looking out for myself” strategy loses when both people try to apply it.

    Seriously, just think about this stuff for a second before talking about it. You don’t need to know a *thing* about math or game theory to know that cooperating always gets you better results than trying to do everything on your own. It opens you up to being taken advantage of, but you take that risk for the possibility of even greater rewards.