East Africa

Lucy Makes Last Stop in California, Then Back to its mother land Ethiopia

Los Angeles (TADIAS) – The famous Ethiopian fossil Lucy (Dinkenesh) will soon end her controversial six-year tour of the United States, making her last public stop at The Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California where she is on display through April 28th before heading back to Ethiopia later this Spring.

“Recently, Ethiopia expressed a desire to bring Lucy back, particularly so an exhibit at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa could coincide with the African Union’s next meeting in May,” reports the Orange County Register in southern California where the last exhibition is being held. “So the Bowers show will be the last chance for people outside of Africa to see the famous and important fossil.”

The 3.2 million years old Lucy was rushed out of Ethiopia in the summer of 2007 under a cloud of controversy over the ancient fossil’s safety and the financial motive behind Ethiopia’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism’s decision to approve the tour in exchange for millions of dollars despite reservations by experts. The famous bones were shunned among others by The Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., which refused to display the fossil citing concerns that the remains are too fragile for touring and travel.

At the time authorities had hoped the exhibition would enhance the country’s image abroad. “Ethiopia has an image problem,” Gezahgen Kebede, the honorary consul general at the Ethiopian Consulate in Houston and one of the leading proponents of bringing Lucy to the United States had told The New York Times. “The bigger thing in my opinion is to teach people about Ethiopia,” he said.

The show entitled Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia and sponsored by the Houston Museum of Natural Science eventually appeared in New York and Seattle in 2008 and 2009. However, media reports at the time estimated that attendance in Seattle was less than half of what was projected. “The Seattle people, they just flunked it because they really didn’t do their homework in terms of solid advertising and how to penetrate the demographics,” Mr. Kebede, who had not seen the exhibition in Seattle, told NYT. “There are people in Seattle who didn’t know this exhibit was there.”

“Lucy is our ambassador of good will,” Amin Abdulkadir, Ethiopia’s minister of culture and tourism told the OC Register regarding the current California exhibition. “Lucy is our icon. She helps build the image of our country. It’s very good in terms of trade, investment and tourism.”

In between the controversy, Lucy was electronically scanned by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin, in collaboration with the Ethiopian government, and the first digital image of the world’s most famous human ancestor was created in the University’s High-resolution X-ray CT Facility.

The fossilized remains were discovered by American paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson in 1974 in the Afar region of Ethiopia. According to Johanson, an official at the Ministry of Culture, Bekele Negussie, gave Lucy her Ethiopian name Dinkenesh shortly after the landmark discovery. As to the inspiration for Lucy, Johanson shared its origins with Tadias Magazine a few years ago: “I was there with my girlfriend Pamela, and the Beatles song ‘Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds’ was playing on a small radio…that’s how she was named.”

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