Australopithecus afarensis in the sky with diamonds
August 28, 2007 8:10 AM   Subscribe

Lucy, one of the oldest and most complete fossilized hominid skeletons, is hitting the road. Although not without a little controversy. (And that's even before the creationists get wind of the tour!)
posted by tugena13 (15 comments total)
 
Ah, yes, Lucy bones.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 8:20 AM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


The decision to send her overseas is fucking dumb. The museums involved are more interested in the publicity than being responsible educators and preservers of historic artifacts, and the politicians in Ethiopia making this decision just want money.
posted by schroedinger at 8:43 AM on August 28, 2007


I sympathise with the concerns. At some level, the need to see the actual object for reasons other than study smacks of fetishism. Not that I haven't marvelled at stuff in museums myself, but it's not even like it's a crafted artefact. Perhaps some future giant of palaeontology will be inspired by the sight, but now we have so many ways to see and learn about these things, not so necessary. I wish there was another way for Ethiopia to fund its museums (peace dividend by patching things up with neighbours and cutting military expenditure, one could dream).
posted by Abiezer at 8:47 AM on August 28, 2007


How do you insure something like that? And what are the premiums?
posted by marxchivist at 9:08 AM on August 28, 2007


I heard this on NPR and it's one of the few times I had to side against the scientists.

Look, science is for the good of all mankind. Putting the science in a secret inner chamber that only the high priests have access to, however well-intentioned, is morally wrong.

It's also dumb on a pragmatic level. One might ask what the use is of seeing the real bones vs the imitations. I would counter by asking what the use is of a newborn child. I know that I for one am much more inspired by the real object when we're talking about something this old.
posted by DU at 9:43 AM on August 28, 2007


I don't know. I can see both sides of this argument.

She was discovered in '72, so that's been 35 years. How much else can they really find out, research-wise, that they haven't already by looking at the bones? I'm genuinely asking here, because it's not like I'm an anthropologist or anything. If there is indeed studying that can be done to illustrate new or undiscovered facts about Lucy, then that's one thing, but I have this feeling that the fetishism goes both ways.

What's the point of preserving artifacts if regular joes can't see them? Is The Real Thing solely for the academics? And if this is going to put money into an economy that desperately needs it, I kind of think, hey, might as well help out the ones who are actually alive.

I know what a galvanizing experience it is to look at something, knowing it's real, instead of a replica. The sense of "holy shit, that is old, and look, I am right here, with it" is pretty intense. And can go a long way in educating people and interesting them in something they might not have had interest before. Does the end justify the means if we manage to at least make one person really make the connection, mentally, between us and Lucy?

Not to mention that this is coming to Houston, and I kind of personally think the ends justify the means if one person is convinced by looking at the Real Totally Not Fake Lucy that hey, I guess they were right about that whole carbon-dating, evolution crap.

I hate the idea of important scientific discoveries being held off-limits to the mouthbreathing plebes, because isn't that the whole point of science in the first place? To make them not so mouthbreathy?
posted by mckenney at 9:45 AM on August 28, 2007


How much else can they really find out, research-wise, that they haven't already by looking at the bones?

More and more, we're learning that we don't know how much else we might learn from artifacts and remains, as technological advances over the next few generations produce more precise instrumentation and as new techniques yield information from archived samples.

It's a question I routinely ask the archaeologists and researchers who teach my classes. We wince at old photos of archaeologists excavating with big honking shovels, as we lament the years of data lost to the practice of tossing broken artifacts while prizing whole or slightly fragmented pots, of shoveling in backfill without sifting or even examining it. We groan that previous generations of shovelbums failed to take soil samples, or took them and used 'em up, so we can't perform further research with newer techniques.

So I pose the question to my profs, to lab workers, to visiting lecturers: can you imagine what we're doing (or not doing) that will cause future generations of archaeologists to wince at our ignorance?

But no one has ever had a great answer to my question, because we don't have the one crucial component to answer it: hindsight.

I haven't settled my opinion about Lucy's tour. Raising public interest in the study (as opposed to the vitriolic debate) of human evolution is valuable. Involving people is valuable. I'm not sure that sending Lucy out as the ambassador for evolution is the best way to stimulate the conversation.
posted by Elsa at 10:31 AM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


She's coming to my city first and by goodness I'm going to smash the case and kiss her.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:43 AM on August 28, 2007


I wish I could take a more dispassionate view of this, but I am fucking psyched to see Lucy.

You know how people get excited about seeing the President? Yeah, I don't really care about that; there have already been like five of those dudes in my lifetime.

But Lucy? Motherfucking Lucy? Jesus Christ, that is like getting the chance to fuck the President while his parents are watching and Yo Yo Ma is playing some soft cello in the background. Damn, I cannot wait to see these fossils.
posted by Greg Nog at 11:04 AM on August 28, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is why we need comic book super-villians in real life. This is totally the type of thing The Joker would make a play for.
posted by sourwookie at 12:07 PM on August 28, 2007 [3 favorites]


Without looking first, I'm going to go out on a limb and say there's at least some newspaper that used a "Lucy In the Sky" headline on this story.
posted by empath at 2:12 PM on August 28, 2007


Oh, so close, yet so far.
posted by empath at 2:13 PM on August 28, 2007


This is absolutely fantastic if she looks really, really old. Some of "those" folk may reconsider the earth's age. Maybe.
posted by notreally at 2:32 PM on August 28, 2007


But really, who would know if the Ethiopians pulled a switcheroo at the last moment and sent some high quality fakes over here? Also, while I'll probably go see this with my family I do kind of feel bad that all the money that the Houston Museum of Natural Science paid for this will go right into the pockets of the of a few individuals of the current junta in Addis Ababa.
posted by Burhanistan at 2:37 PM on August 28, 2007


I'm gonna be thrilled to see her, but this is a terrible, terrible idea.
posted by orthogonality at 3:32 PM on August 28, 2007


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