Donald Johanson pays Lucy a visit

I’ve read this summary of Donald Johanson’s visit to the Houston Museum of Natural Science to see Lucy, the 3 million year old australopithecine ‘he found’ about 33 years ago.Donald Johanson

Lucy is also known as AL 288-1 or Dinkenesh, in Amharic, which means “You are beautiful.” The fossils are on a very controversial tour to US museums. While visiting Lucy, Donald Johanson summarized the rifts in paleoanthropology, he says anthropologists may disagree over some aspects of human evolution, but there is broad agreement on the basic theory of where it all began,

The one thing that all anthropologists have agreed on now is that the fossil record for humanity is so convincing, from the very earliest, very primitive stages, long before Lucy, going back as much as six million years in Africa, that this is really the cradle of humankind, Africa.”

He also commented on creationist thought and answered some questions from high students who caught him while he was there. Here’s a sound bite,

I don’t like to read too much into some quotes, but sometimes I really must, especially when Johanson put something like this out there,

“The Afar people who live there today know what these bones look like and sometimes when we come back to the field, they will take me by my hand and they will walk me and say ‘look what I found when I was herding my goats.’ And they know that you should never pick it up, because then you do not know where it is from.”

In my experience one should never come out with a quote like this because it undermines one’s authority and ownership to the research. What happens when the locals know you want fossils and displace or destroy them? If you think that doesn’t happen, think again. It does. What happens when locals know you want a hominin and bring it to you, destroying the context? The fossil becomes useless… Why then is Johanson’s name on the publications? I can’t believe Johanson is quoted saying something like that, because it brings up the idea that he may have allowed such exceptions!

2 thoughts on “Donald Johanson pays Lucy a visit

  1. To all interested in archaeology and anthropology:

    I’m not sure where to post this properly, but I want to bring some attention to an online article I read this morning about some college students doing remarkable things in the realm of anthropological research.

    First off, here’s a shocker: the LARGEST COLLECTION OF MAYA SKELETONS IN THE WORLD IS HOUSED IN THE SMALL TOWN OF PLATTSBURGH, NY. A story in Cardinal Points, the newspaper of the college in that town, ran a feature today revealing that their college has played host to a remarkable collection of 588 complete Maya skeletons since the 1980s, although few people knew this collection was there. A distinguished anthropology professor apparently came into contact with these specimens on a research trip to Belize and has since categorized the entire collection.

    But wait…there’s more. Students from Plattsburgh State University are currently in the midst of an incredible project: extracting ancient DNA from these Maya skeletons and analyzing it under very tight parameters. Their results are fascinating, and they’ve just begun their research. The students involved won medals at a national academic competition in Orlando for their work, and I would not be surprised if more awards follow. What a fascinating look into a world we know little about–and, based on the results of some of this student research, a world we may know even less than we thought we knew.

    I recommend that all of you go to at once to read this incredible story. It will make you want to go to Plattsburgh at once to examine these specimens for yourself.

    Congratulations to the Plattsburgh State University science department on their well-deserved awards, and to the student author of the story for his thorough coverage of a topic rarely seen in student media. Well done all!

  2. I did read this article and it is amazing! I never heard of Plattsburgh State before, but I sure am impressed by them now. Congratulations to all the students and faculty behind this great success, and best wishes for more breakthroughs as you continue this difficult but fascinating work.

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