A Celebrity Exhibit of a Fossil Icon

Front cover of exhibit folder for Lucy's Legacy, 2007, courtesy of the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences.

In 2007, the Houston Museum of Natural History, in collaboration with the Ethiopian government and the US State Department, embarked on a six-year tour of Lucy, one of Ethiopia’s most famous fossils.  The petite hominin, measuring just under three feet tall and weighing a bit more than sixty pounds in life, is certainly one of Ethiopia’s best-known national treasures and has played a key role in various debates about the mechanisms and directions of human evolution since her discovery in the Awash Valley in 1974. 

Lucy's life, however, is more than just the initial moment of discovery and her contributions to scientific debates.  Her "afterlife" or "life post-discovery" tells us about the business of how paleoanthropology "does science."  It is through this "life as object" that Lucy moves from an extinct taxonomic classification of Australopithecus africanus into AL 288-1, an extant scientific specimen, and twenty-first century cultural icon. 

Inside exhibit folder, Lucy's Legacy, 2007, courtesy of the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences.

Note the detachable "puzzle piece" as part of the folder.

Undeniably, the 2007 tour Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia highlighted the complexities of making sense of such a famous celebrity fossil. 

Flier from Lucy's Legacy, 2007, courtesy of the Houston Museum of Natural Sciences.