Sunday, October 19, 2008

Lucy's Legacy

On Sunday we planned to go see Lucy's Legacy at the Pacific Science Center. On the way we passed the Seattle Center and there was a Turkish Cultural Festival going on there. I was hoping we could get some Turkish food as snacks before proceeding to the Science Center, but there was none there. We had fish and chips instead. There was however Turkish dancing which we watched a bit of.

I took some photos, but they did not turn out well, not enough light. According to the program, we had already missed the Whirling Dervishes (which I would have loved to have seen) and the Belly Dancing (which Dave would have liked). We proceeded on to the Pacific Science Center.

You're not allowed to take photos in the exhibit, so instead I am showing the Space Needle which we passed on the way to the Science Center, and the towers at the entrance to the Science Center.

Lucy is the name given to an ancient hominid fossil skeleton found in Ethiopia. Her official Latin name is Australopithecus afarensis, it means "southern ape of Afar" (Afar is the nearest Ethiopian town to where her bones were found). One skeleton is not much to make a full exhibit out of, so the display is fleshed out with a history of Ethiopia and some background on the evolution of hominids.

Ethiopia, in brief

The part of the exhibit about Ethiopia itself is rather interesting. Ethiopians trace their history back to Solomon. The last emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, is considered to be the last of Solomon's line, via the Queen of Sheba. Whether this is actually true or not is another question, but Ethiopian has certainly been ruled by a long line of emperors from several centuries BCE. Back in the nineteenth century (CE), when European countries were carving up Africa into colonial empires, Ethiopia (then known as Abyssinia) was the only country that maintained its independence. All of the rest of the African continent was divvied up amongst various European colonial powers.

Italy tried to claim Ethiopia by a rather devious method: they signed a trade treaty with the emperor of Ethiopia but two copies of the treaty were prepared, one in the Ethiopian language and one in Italian, and they were worded differently. The Italian version called Ethiopia a "protectorate" of Italy, the Ethiopian one did not. When the Ethiopian emperor Menelik found out about the discrepancy, he called on the Italians to fix it, the Italians refused, and the upshot was that Italy sent an invasion force into Ethiopia. The Italians were beaten soundly by the Ethiopians at Adwa in 1896. This battle is celebrated in a mural showing ranks of Ethiopian soldiers and royalty on one side, and numerous Italian body parts on the other.

Later, in the lead-up to World War II, Mussolini invaded Ethiopia and carried off many archaeological treasures, including a Stela erected in honour of the Queen of Sheba (Ethiopians assert that she was from there, other sources place her in Yemen). He also used chemical warfare against the Ethiopians, sending in planes that sprayed toxic chemicals on people and crops. Emperor Haile Selassie complained to the League of Nations but he was ignored. Italy and Germany went on to invade and occupy most of Europe and northern Africa shortly thereafter.

Ethiopia is home to strong Jewish, Orthodox Christian and Muslim traditions, the Jewish population dating itself as far back as the time of King Solomon and perhaps earlier. However today they have largely relocated to Israel. The Christian church in Ethiopia has been isolated from both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions of Europe and the Middle East, it is an entirely separate branch of Christianity that still practices rites of the earliest Christian churches.

Lucy, herself

At the very end of the display you get to see the skeleton and a model of what Lucy might have looked like in real life. She stands less than four feet high and appears to be faintly smiling. Her fossil remains were discovered in 1974, the same year that Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed. This discovery is considered pivotal because it answered the question, which came first, bipedalism or large brains. It turns out that Lucy had a brain the size of a modern chimpanzee but walked upright like a modern human. She is considered to be an ape and not a hominid, but there is strong reason to believe that hominids developed from her species.

Lucy represents the first ape that walked fully erect on two feet. Most apes either swing from tree branches or "knuckle-walk" on all fours. They can walk short distances on two feet, but it is awkward and not their preferred method of walking. Lucy was built to walk upright, she would have preferred this over knuckle-walking.

In the final display area of the exhibit is the actual skeleton, a model of what Lucy might have looked like, and a panoramic mural depicting some of Lucy's ancestors and descendents. At one end are great apes and at the other end are humans.

A couple of interesting things about this mural, the different species are somewhat mixed together because in all likelihood they overlapped each other's ranges in time and space, and the humans are brown. How many depictions of the evolution of humans have you seen that show hairy black-eyed brown apes at one end and blond blue-eyed white humans at the other? It was refreshing to see distinctively African facial features on the modern humans.

1 comment:

Barbara Anne said...

Hi Anne! How interesting! I remember Lucy and where she was discovered by the Leakys. I didn't know this history of the devious Italians of that day and enjoyed reading it all.

You mention of the Turkish Festival reminded me of our cresting a hill in Baltimore to land in an Irish Festival years ago!

You do have the most fun! Hugs!!!