Sunday, August 26, 2007

Lucy Does Houston

While I am pleased that I will be able to lay my own eyes on the physical remains of Lucy, the 3.2 million year old fossilized remains of a proto-humanoid discovered by Donald Johanson and Tony Gray in 1974, I am personally alarmed that the Federal Republic of Ethiopia, Lucy’s legal owner, is willing to risk damage and/or destruction of its greatest national treasure.

It’s true. In Anharic, one of Ethiopia’s eighty-four languages, Lucy is known as “dinqneš,”, and that translates to “the wonderful” or “the fabulous” or “the precious”.

In the 33 years since its discovery, Lucy, the most complete specimen of the species Australopithecus afarensis, has only been put on public exhibition twice, and never outside of Ethiopia.

And now the skeletal remains, completely mineralized bones I hear, was put on an Ethiopian Airlines flight to Houston. It was either a special flight or there was one stopover and transfer in Washington DC.

Lucy’s first stop on its 6-year world tour is the Houston Museum of Natural Science. The exhibit opens on August 31st. Over 2100 advance tickets have been sold for the exhibit at $20 a pop. That, friends and neighbors, is an all-time high entrance fee for an exhibit at HMNS.

Many many paleoanthropologists are up in arms about this. These are professionals who are in the way of knowing that you cannot take a national treasure around the world for six years without it sustaining some damage due to travel. There is such concern that curators at The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the American Museum of Natural History in New York have refused offers to exhibit Lucy.

I can’t say I blame them.

And I question the choice of Houston, or any museum in Red America, as a safe place to display this important Pliocene hominid specimen. There are so many religious nutcases here in the South that it would not surprise me in the least to hear of attempts by evangelical extremists to take a sledge hammer to the exhibit. They see Lucy as a symbol of the atheistic secularists’ attempts to teach Evolution in preference to Creationism or Intelligent Design. Lucy’s very existence flies in the face of their dogmatic views of Christianity. I’m sure there is some nutcase out there that thinks that Lucy is an atheistic hoax.

Many are calling for an outright boycott of the exhibit because of all of the concerns about deterioration of the specimen. I’ll probably cave in and pay my $20 to see her because with advance ticket sales like that, it isn’t likely that a boycott will be successful.

No, if Lucy has to be here, I’m going to go take a look. But if I see some religious zealot pull out a crow bar while I’m there I’m going take it away and shove it up into a dark place.

No comments: