As we continue to learn more about Lucy, and the origin of mankind, I thought of sharing the video below. It is a short interview of Donald Johanson who found Lucy in 1974 in the Afar Triangle in Ethiopia. It is “In Conversation with Donald Johanson, a film by Pierangelo Pirak” on the BBC Earth. It is just a snippets, but it helps to perceive the change that occurred with the discovery of Lucy in our understanding of the human evolution and origin. There are definitely other documentaries, much longer that will give more information, but this is to wet your appetite. Since the discovery of Lucy, more Australopithecus afarensis have been found, and even older remains like those of the Kenyantropus platyops (3.5 million years) or the Ardipithecus (dated 4.4 million years). Enjoy!
How many of you have pondered upon the origin of humanity? Or who could have been the oldest ancestor to mankind? Or how we are all related to that ancestor?
I know some will say Adam and Eve… but what if it was Lucy and someone else instead? What if it was not somewhere in the Middle East but rather on the African continent?
Well, today, we will be talking about Lucy, the first human ancestor discovered in Ethiopia, in Africa, the cradle of humanity.
Lucy was discovered in 1974 in Africa, at Hadar, a site in the Awash Valley of the Afar Triangle in Ethiopia, by paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History . In Ethiopia she is known as Dinkinesh, meaning the marvelous one in Amharic. The Lucy specimen is an early australopithecine and is dated to about 3.2 million years ago. At the time of the findings, it was the most ancient early human – or hominin – ever found. It was also the most complete: 40% of the skeleton had been preserved.
Now, you might ask, why is she called Lucy? Well, because the Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was playing on the radio when the archaeologists found her remains. Thus the name Lucy. Lucy belongs to the species of Australopithecus afarensis; afarensis for the Afar region of Ethiopia where she was found. She is one of the most important fossils ever discovered. Her discovery helped solidify the idea that Africa was the cradle of humanity, and a crucial hub for human evolution. Before Lucy, the skeleton of the Taung child dated to about 2.8 million years old had been found in South Africa in 1924, but European archaeologists and scientists refused to admit (as always) that Africa could be important in the study of human evolution. As always, they thought that Europe and Asia were the centers. Aren’t we tired of this Eurocentric view of the world which pretends to give meaning to everything it does not understand? Oh Mama Africa, your beauty and splendor is truly too much for these people that they have to keep denying your place and importance in the world!
Lucy was an upright walker, i.e. she walked standing up, thus dating the bipedalism observed in humans to at least 3.2 million years. She was only about 1 meter tall (3.5 feet). Lucy was a full-grown adult, because she had wisdom teeth and her bones had fused. Unlike modern humans, it would seem that she had grown to full size very quickly, and was about 12 years old when she died. From a 2006 study, the findings of a 3-year-old Australopithecus afarensis suggested that their brains reached their full size much earlier than modern human’s does. Lucy was ape-like in appearance and brain size, but could walk upright like more advanced hominins that lived later like the Taung child (2.8 million years) or the Australopitecus sediba (2.2 million years old). She had powerful arms and long curved toes that paleontologists think allowed her to climb trees as well as walk upright.
Lucy’s finding marked a turning point in our understanding of humanity, and the human lineage. She is a treasure, and although older skeletons have since then been found like the Kenyantropus platyops (3.5 million years) or the Ardipithecus (dated 4.4 million years), she remains a treasure. No wonder, Ethiopians call her Dinkinesh or “you are marvelous” or “marvelous one“, for Lucy truly is marvelous as she has allowed to place Africa back at the center as the cradle of humanity (Africa was always at the center, but some Eurocentric views would not let her shine). If you are ever in Addis Ababa, please do not forget to visit her (her cast) at the National Museum of Ethiopia . Enjoy!
You can imagine my surprise when I found out that the name of the largest city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa or Addis Abeba, actually meant “New Flower.” No wonder the sound of it was always so pretty.
The region where Addis Ababa is founded is called Finfinne, or Natural Springs, by the local Oromo population; it is an area rich with fauna and flora. In the southwest, can be found Mount Wachacha, and in the north Mount Entoto. Before the foundation of Addis Ababa, Emperor Menelik II and the empress Taytu Betul were installed in the area of Mount Entoto as it was used a military base for operations in the south of the realm; however that area had a rude climate, was cold, and very windy. So the imperial couple used to visit the thermal sources of Filwoha, hot mineral springs, located at a lower altitude.
In 1886, while Empress Taytu Betul was admiring the landscape, she saw a flower of rare beauty. Enchanted by the nice climate, she asked her spouse, Emperor Menelik II, to build her a house in the area. Menelik II agreed and promised Taytu to build her a residence there. The choice of the precise location of Addis Ababa followed the prophecy of Menelik II’s grandfather, Sahle Selassie, Negus of Shewa from 1813 to 1847. During a game of chess, Sahle Selassie declared: “This country is covered with scrub and vegetation, but the day will come when my grandson will build a house here, and will found a city.” Menelik II founded the city at the exact location where his grandfather was practicing fencing. The name was Empress Taytu’s choice: she had been stunned by that beautiful flower she had never seen before, hence she named the city Addis Ababa, or “New Flower” in Amharic.
Menelik expanded his wife’s house to become the Imperial Palace which remains the seat of government in Addis Ababa today. Addis Ababa became Ethiopia’s capital when Menelik II became Emperor of Ethiopia. The town grew by leaps and bounds. One of Emperor Menelik II’s contributions still visible today is the planting of numerous eucalyptus trees along the city’s streets. The city lies at an altitude of 2300 meters, and is a grassland biome.
Following all the major engagements of their invasion, Italian troops from the colony of Eritrea entered Addis Ababa on 5 May 1936. Along with Dire Dawa, the city had been spared the aerial bombardment (including the use of chemical weapons such as mustard gas) practiced elsewhere and its railway to Djibouti remained intact. The city served as the Duke of Aosta‘s capital for the unified colony of Italian East Africa until 1941, when it was abandoned in favor of Amba Alagi and other redoubts during the Second World War‘s East African Campaign. The city was liberated by Major Orde Wingate‘s Sudanese and Ethiopian Gideon Force in time to permit Emperor Haile Selassie‘s return on 5 May 1941, five years to the day after he had left.
Following reconstruction, Haile Selassie helped form the Organisation of African Unity in 1963 and invited the new organization to keep its headquarters in the city. The OAU was dissolved in 2002 and replaced by the African Union (AU), also headquartered in Addis Ababa. The United Nations Economic Commission for Africa also has its headquarters in Addis Ababa. It is home to Addis Ababa University. The Federation of African Societies of Chemistry (FASC) and Horn of Africa Press Institute (HAPI) are also headquartered in Addis Ababa. Ethiopia has often been called the original cradle of humanity due to various humanoid fossil discoveries like the Australopithecine Lucy. Recent DNA evidence have suggested origins in south central Ethiopian regions like present-day Addis Ababa: after analyzing the DNA of almost 1,000 people around the world, geneticists and other scientists claimed people spread from what is now Addis Ababa 100,000 years ago. Enjoy video about the new flower, and all its cultural wealth.