Lucy tour may bring 3.2 million-year-old skeleton to Denver
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia – The 3.2 million-year-old skeleton known as Lucy was quietly flown out of Ethiopia overnight for a tour of the United States that may include a Denver stop, a trip some consider too risky for one of the world’s most famous fossils.Although the fossil was expected to leave the Ethiopian Natural History Museum this month, the handling of the departure took some in the nation’s capital by surprise.”This is a national treasure,” said Kine Arega, a 29-year-old attorney in Addis Ababa. “How come the public has no inkling about this? It’s amazing that we didn’t even get to say goodbye.”Paleontologist Berhane Assaw said he worked late Sunday at the museum only to arrive Monday morning to find that the fossil and key staff members had left for Texas.The departure “should have been made public,” he said.Ethiopia’s culture minister, Mahamouda Ahmed Gaas, declined to comment.The Smithsonian Institution has objected to the six-year tour because museum experts do not believe the fragile remains should travel. Even in Ethiopia, the public has only seen the real Lucy remains twice. The Lucy exhibition at the Ethiopian Natural History Museum is a replica and the real remains are usually locked in a vault.Tour stops not finalizedLucy goes on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science on Aug. 31, continuing through April 20, 2008. The other tour stops have not been finalized, according to Melodie Francis, a spokeswoman at the Houston museum. Ethiopian officials have said New York, Denver and Chicago were among the tour stops.The Denver museum was not identified. Officials of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science did not immediately return calls.The fossilized remains were discovered in 1974 in the remote, desert-like Afar region in northeastern Ethiopia. Lucy is classified as an Australopithecus afarensis, which lived in Africa between about 4 million and 3 million years ago, and is the earliest known hominid.Most scientists believe Australopithecus afarensis stood upright and walked on two feet, but they argue about whether it had ape-like agility in trees. The loss of that ability would suggest crossing a threshold toward a more human existence.