The trappings of her planned U.S. tour would befit a rock star — hype, controversy, strict security and the promise of huge crowds. However, the star of this tour has been dead for 3.2 million years and her appearance left a lot to be desired from a showbiz standpoint — an ape-like female only 3½ feet high, walking upright on two feet but retaining the ability to scamper through the treetops when necessary.
It is Lucy, whose partial skeleton was discovered in 1974 and who for about 20 years was the earliest known human ancestor, a member of a branch of hominids that lived 3 million to 4 million years ago known as Australopithecus afarensis.
A deal between the Ethiopian Natural History Museum and the Houston Museum of Natural Science would bring Lucy, accompanied by 190 other fossils and relics, to the United States next September for a six-year tour. She would stay in Houston until August 2008, and then on to six or more other cities.
Some scientists oppose the trip, arguing that Lucy’s remains are irreplaceable and too fragile to be moved, and that they would be better saved for scientific study rather than put on display as a tourist attraction.
But, as has been noted, other fragile and priceless artifacts — the King Tut exhibit and the Dead Sea scrolls, for example — have been safely transported and displayed, with a subsequent swell of public interest in archeology. Lucy, outside of her genealogical appeal, would likely do the same for anthropology and paleontology.
And with assorted activists disputing evolution, Lucy’s appearance could hardly be more timely.
Lucy — the names comes from the Beatles song — has only been displayed briefly, twice before. What’s on display in Ethiopia are replicas. The real remains are locked away in the vault. The advanced display cases here would return to Addis Ababa with her, allowing Ethiopians to see firsthand perhaps their most famous resident.