Lucy is on her way

John Hawks reports that a certain well-known 3.2 million year old lady has quietly left her home in Africa, and is on her way to Texas. She’s probably also going to visit Chicago in 2009 — I’ll be sure to stop by and pay my respects then.


  1. Sheesh says

    My favourite Gary Larson cartoon is the one where a
    bunch of anthropologists are gathered around a rock face that has Lucy from “Peanuts” on it.

  2. says

    I would assume Lucy would be transported by aircraft, and there’s reasonable odds of a female crew member who is engaged or married.

    Lucy in the sky with diamonds…

  3. dieselrain says

    Does anyone besides me see the irony of sending Lucy to Texas? I wonder if Lucy will convince any I.D. adherent that their position is indefensible? I always hope….

  4. raven says

    What is the probability that some Xian terrorist will try and blow up Lucy the fossils? I’m guessing about 100%. There have already been threats in Africa. They better have very good security around that collection of bones.

    Speaking of Xian terrorists, they haven’t caught Michael Korn yet. Maybe he is laying low in Eric Rudolph’s safe house or hanging out with bin Laden.

  5. Brain Hertz says

    Damn… I’m imminently leaving for a vacation in Texas, including a few days in Houston. We’re leaving a week before the exhibit opens.

    My kids are disappointed too…

  6. says

    Well, my bro and my genetic contributors have decided we’ll stop by during Decemberween break. I’ll snap pictures if they’ll let me.

  7. bacopa says

    I’m going to go see this exhibit on a weekday morning toward the end of the run. That’s how I got into BodyWorlds with only a thirty minute wait. If we’ve got the pull ot bring Lucy here first, we can’t be all bad. In fact, the inner city areas of Houston and the Bay Area cities are secular oases on a par with Austin.

  8. says

    I’m very interested in this little adventure to see what the outcome will be. I see three possible scenarios happening:

    1. Behe comes out with a new book refuting Lucy and propagating a new belief that Lucy is the actual skeleton of Adam. He’ll publish a book that will, of course, be seated right next to Dawkins, real scientists, et al.

    2. The Westboro Church protests Lucy on grounds that her reproduction probably eventually led to a “fa-got” being born somewhere down her lineage.

    or 3. Lucy, ending up in Illinois, a blue state, will become the new whipping boy for the Republican party. “Maybe if LUCY, that thousand year old GODLESS LIBERAL, had a gun, she wouldn’t be dead!”

  9. says

    Oh, forgot for a moment among all the scientifically minded people that Texas exists. During my stay, I’ll be sure to whip out any mad ninjutsu skills I may have in defense of Lucy if the need arises.

  10. GodlessHeathen says

    1. Behe comes out with a new book refuting Lucy and propagating a new belief that Lucy is the actual skeleton of Adam. He’ll publish a book that will, of course, be seated right next to Dawkins, real scientists, et al.

    I almost hope so, as I’d then be able to write and sell my first best-seller. A treatise which will prove that the skeleton is not Adam’s, but is indeed Steve’s. =^.^=

  11. Arnosium Upinarum says

    PZ: “I’ll be sure to stop by and pay my respects then.”

    So shall I. I expect to get goosebumps while gazing upon her speechlessly.

  12. bernarda says

    Too bad we can’t also have a visit by these 8 million year old trees.

    “Hungarian scientists look at a group of fossilized swamp cypress trees or Taxodium trees preserved in an open-cast lignite mine in the northeast of Hungary in this picture taken July 16, 2007. The trunks of the trees were preserved in a remarkable condition, standing at 4-6 metres tall and 1.5-3 metres in diameter just as they were in the late Miocene geological period 8 million years ago. (Otto Herman Museum/Reuters)”

    A nice picture too.

  13. says

    I recall seeing her casts at Chicago’s Natural History Museum. Perhaps I’ll venture to Texas or whatever plausible time frame locale to take a gander at the genuine thing.

    But I don’t know. The castes seem to work just fine, and lecture-hall quality ones are fun to hold and what-not.

  14. says

    I’ve just spent some time examining a number of original hominid fossils from African hominid sites, and discussing (without really knowing any of the details) with colleagues at Museums here the issue of bringing something like “Lucy” across the globe.

    I am not convinced that it is ever a good idea to transport material like this.

    The value of people actually being able to see (but not touch) the original fossil is real. But there are a LOT of original fossil materials that are not utterly unique and irreplaceable. The additional value for public enrichment, etc. of having an utterly unique, famous, irreplaceable fossil in front of a bunch of Americans is probably measurable, but it is worth the risk?

    I’m reminded of this story: A major once in a lifetime ceremony was about to take place in South Africa, to which Ms Ples was invited. The curator agreed to bring Ms. Ples to the ceremony but only with an armored car, massive insurance, and significant police protection. Just prior to the transport, two bombs went off at the ceremony site.

    Needless to say, the curator cancelled the transport and to this day what was already a very strict policy about removing original materials has been tightened.

    Probably, nothing will go wrong. But I’m not sure if transporting Lucy is a good idea. I have not decided yet, but I may be against it enough to choose to not see the exhibit if it comes near my area.

    It will be interesting to see how the Science Museum of Minnesota comes down on this… (to my knowledge they are not currently planning to host the exhibit).


  15. qetzal says

    Greg –

    Is Lucy still used for significant scientific study? If she were destroyed, how much of a scientific loss would it be?

    I would think that all kinds of casts and photos and other measurements have already been made. I would also think that the vast majority of her scientific value has already been captured.

    Contingent on the above, one could argue that Lucy’s greatest value now is as a symbol of science and the study of human origins. Exhibiting Lucy could help inspire kids and adolescents to pursue science, or just be more accepting of science. In the aggregate, couldn’t that have far more value than trying to safeguard some small residual value as a source of new data?

    I gather anthropology is your field, so I look forward to your further comments on this.

  16. Umilik says

    Lady ? Now THAT’S a theory.
    Do you have any evidence that she was a lady ? Maybe she was the cave slut.

  17. says

    Just recently, researchers were analyzing the Taung baby for evidence of the predator that killed it — these are not ‘dead’ fossils for which the analysis is complete. We have no idea what future hypothesis some clever person might come up with, prompting a reexamination of the specimen.

    If I’d been asked (not that there was a chance of that), I’d have reluctantly agreed that Lucy is too valuable to be shuffled around the world. As long as she’s here, though, I think we have to promote her presence for everything it’s worth — she’s a symbol of the evidence.

  18. says

    Im going to go see her when my bro gets married in October!!!


    Ive been excited about it for months! (Lucy, not the wedding…)

  19. J-Dog says

    Qetzal is absolutely correct IMO – and so is Kristine!

    All of Lucy’s bones have been measured and cast, and made to be handled by scientists, and I would expect plaster casts of her bones available to touch on the tour. If the Darwin Tour which we recently visted is any indicator, there will be many “hands-on”, please touch exhibits.

    Kristine alluded to another Museum visit, and using the Darwin Exhibit as a benchmark, it will be another great opportunity to combat the Creationist and Intelligent Design Creationist evil empire.

  20. Bee says

    I wish Lucy were coming to a museum near me – I’d definitely go to see her, or any other fabulous set of very old bones, for that matter.

    There’s something very compelling about ‘the real thing’, when it comes to trying to grasp the age of the world. Not so old, at a thousand years, but I was unexpectedly very moved when visiting L’Anse aux Meadeaux in Newfoundland, to be able to place my hand on the remaining sods of houses built by Vikings. Wonderful artifacts there as well, very nice museum and recreation.

  21. says

    This is one of the best parts of my having moved to Texas. I’m going to see it in October, and dragging my family along with me. I can hardly wait. It’s like being a kid around Christmas time.

  22. says

    Pity you couldn’t make it to Chicago this past weekend, PZ. Spent a nice hour + in the Darwin exhibit at the Field. Now, looking forward to Lucy …

  23. Tukla in Iowa says

    a certain well-known 3.2 million year old lady has quietly left her home in Africa, and is on her way to Texas

    Isn’t that how we got Barbara Bush?

  24. CS says

    “My favourite Gary Larson cartoon is the one where a
    bunch of anthropologists are gathered around a rock face that has Lucy from “Peanuts” on it.”

    If I remember right, the caption reads “Rocking the Anthropological world, a second Lucy is discovered” – and then you seem them pointing at Lucy from Peanuts, stuck in the rock.

  25. jeffox backtrollin' says

    Oh ya ya, I can just see it now. Lucy fossil flys to USA to begin tour in Texas. Lucy’s manager quoted as saying, “She’s bigger than the beatles, now”. Signs of protest by Bob Dylan & Trashmen fans at her sold-out show in the Metrodome.

    (calms down a little now) OK, that was fun. For me. :)

    Really, though, Dr. Myers, I agree with your post, (#23 above) because there may be more science that can be done with the original fossils and that displaying her fossils may go a long way towards further popularizing both science and rational thinking.

  26. says

    Not that my opinion on this is worth anything, but as far as to whether or not Lucy should be traveling, I vote yes.

    For one, science doesn’t have a monopoly on our heritage. Lucy is a close relative of all of us. And yes, scientific understanding has value, but so do awe and wonder. Lucy’s scientific value is certainly not nill, but I think it’s reached a point of diminishing returns, especially considering, as others have pointed out, the amount of study that has already been done to the fossils, and the replicas and other records that exist. At this point, I think it’s definitely worth letting everybody have a chance to see Lucy.

  27. bernarda says

    Now there is this discovery of two fossils in Kenya.

    “Two fossils found in Kenya have shaken the human family tree, possibly rearranging major branches thought to be in a straight ancestral line to Homo sapiens.

    Scientists who dated and analyzed the specimens – a 1.4-million-year-old Homo habilis and a 1.5-million-year-old Homo erectus – said their findings challenged the conventional view that these species evolved one after the other. Instead, they apparently lived side by side in eastern Africa for almost half a million years.

    If this interpretation is correct, the early evolution of the genus Homo is left even more shrouded in mystery than before. It means that both habilis and erectus must have originated from a common ancestor between 2 million and 3 million years ago, a time for which the fossil record is virtually blank.”

  28. says

    From a Yahoo News article about Lucy’s travels in America:

    “Laura Holtman, a spokeswoman for the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, said the museum has had discussions about hosting the exhibit, but has not made a final decision. She said it will require more work to set up than most traveling displays,and officials are also considering the ethical issues that have been raised about exhibiting the Lucy remains.”

    Ethical issues? What ethical issues? Lucy is the only “celebrity fossil” on the planet! Sure, I have ethical issues with some celebrities, Paris, John T., you know the list. But Lucy ITSWD? What the hell did she ever do?