Thursday, February 19, 2009

i love lucy

i've been thinking of lucy ever since i saw her last week at the zoological museum in copenhagen. it was, of course, just a replica with the bits filled in that were missing from her fossil, but somehow, i still find myself standing before her feeling awestruck.

Lucy (AL288-1) - 2.3 million years old

i think i had some distant knowledge of lucy before i picked up donald johanson and maitland a. edey's book, lucy: the beginnings of humankind from my father-in-law's bookshelves a good eight years ago. it was one of those lazy afternoons at his house in sweden. he was an architect and had designed and built the house when my husband was just a little boy and something about the design seemed to have bent time so that it felt like it stretched out to be exactly the amount of time you needed when you were there in that house. i was sitting in a low, comfy chair and when i glanced at the bookshelf beside me the lucy book fairly leapt from the shelf into my hands.  i picked it up and began reading. i read non-stop for the next couple of hours, husband fortifying me with the occasional cup of tea. i was transfixed. because it's a fascinating story, well told by johanson and edey.

they were digging at hadar in ethiopia in late november, during the last days of the dig season in 1974. johansen had lots of paperwork to do, but on a hunch, decided to go out with a graduate student named tom gray to survey locality 162. it was during the heat of the day that they stumbled upon what appeared to be quite an intact single individual primitive hominid. at 40%, it's one of the most complete hominid skeletons ever found. johansen lucidly walks through the tangled web of paleoanthropology and the politics of the naming and dating of fossils. it's fascinating stuff and has since led me to read a whole lot of other books on the subject, several by the leakeys--louis, mary, richard--who are perhaps the most famous paleoanthropologists in the world and one on the piltdown man hoax and one on raymond dart, who found the taung baby in south africa. paleoanthropology has a way of doing that to you, it keeps you coming back for more with beautiful fossils (like mr. toumai below), heated controversies and fiery personalities.

toumai (sahelanthropus tchadensis) "ape" 
6-7 million years old

i think i mentioned recently that husband and i spend quite a lot of time talking about evolution. our discussion these days is centered largely on what the next steps might be and whether we are part of/witnessing/being left behind by it. is there some step into cyberspace on the horizon...when will the 'net take on a life of its own (or has it already?) or will the next step be a cyborg? not really along the lines of bladerunner or even the matrix (tho' the matrix is closer to what we think is happening), but more subtle than that--starting with chip implants for faulty neural transmissions and the like. that's why i made the stack of books i did above. because for me, it starts with lucy, who, although australopithecus and not homo, isn't a direct human ancestor, she's part of evolution's picture and i'm very interested in where we're headed next.  and we can't really explore that without knowing where we were.

when i was a kid, i wanted to be a paleontologist/archaeologist, but actually abandoned the idea because i thought all of the good fossils would be found by the time i grew up. little did i know. i should have stayed interested in science in that way, because i'd love to be part of a dig, looking for the next link in the evolutionary chain, scribbling away and cataloguing my discoveries in a wonderful notebook.

i guess that's ultimately what lucy represents to me...the ultimate discovery--finding something that is so old and reveals so much, yet opens up a whole new set of questions that no one even imagined. pushing the boundaries of human thinking and knowledge, both back in time and forward. evolution this way...


Barb said...

Very interesting post. I remember feeling awed when I saw Lucy in Ethiopia (the real one) - and feeling that link to our very beginnings.

Love your paragraph about where we evolve next. Maybe I'm on the way already with my "bionic" knee. LOL Barb xox

julochka said...

barb--how AWESOME that you saw the REAL LUCY!!! that gives me goosebumps just reading it!!!!

Just Jules said...

I wish evolution would work for mothers. If it did we would have more than one set of arms (I would prefer them to be retractable, and available on demand).... Why does it work for the artic fox and not us, the moms?

Too funny:WV is hande= the ability to grow more appendages on demand through evolution (give that girl a "hande")

heidikins said...

I love this post! I had a Darwin-streak a few year ago and read a bunch of evolution-ish books. My favorite is Darwin's Ghost, it not only talks about ancient evolution, but modern examples as well. Fascinating stuff.


Char said...

how things "work" always intrigues me - I like how you have let us in on how your mind works in this area - it is all so fascinating. I loved the anthropology courses in college and how mankind developed. it will be something to see what our "next" step is - or have we made it really with the upcoming technology.

Molly said...

"the design seemed to have bent time so that it felt like it stretched out to be exactly the amount of time you needed when you were there in that house"
Inspired concept Julie. I know places like this, thanks for giving the feeling words. And such eloquent ones :)

tangobaby said...

Okay, first off, I have to thank you for writing this post with all of these yummy links that I will have to go and read after this.

Second, this is another reason why you and I are twins. I was going to be a paleontologist/archaeologist (I couldn't make up my mind either) until I was a junior in high school. Then I came to grips with the fact that I hate being hot (aka working outside in the sun) and that most of these people don't make any money. I don't make any money now so maybe I should have not let those things stand in my way.

Lastly, it's thinking like this that always makes me sad that we don't live longer. I think The Story of Mankind is so fascinating, and I really want to see how it all turns out.

Thanks for such a great post.

Delwyn said...

And isn't it amazing that over 40% of Americans don't believe in evolution ( according to a TV program to commemorate Darwin last week.)

Elizabeth said...

Isn't odd that most human being including me feel so many boundaries and still as a species we accomplished so much over time and somehow keep evolving.

Question: Is this why creativity is so hot these days?