Houston loves 'Lucy'

Houston, we have a fossil.

But it's not just any old fossil making its way to the Houston Museum of Natural Science at the end of the month. "Lucy," as she's known, is a 3.2 million-year-old hominid discovered 33 years ago in Ethiopia. With 40 percent of her skeleton intact, Lucy is the oldest and most complete adult human ancestor fully retrieved from African soil.

How'd she get her name? The fellows who dug her up in 1974 were inspired by the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds." Scientists believe the fossilized partial skeleton, found in the Afar region of northeastern Ethiopia, was once a 3-foot-tall, 60-pound ape-man species.

This will be the first time since its discovery that the fossil will be displayed outside Ethiopia. (Last year, both the Smithsonian Institution and New York's American Museum of Natural History announced that they would not host the exhibition, arguing that Lucy is too fragile to travel.) Lucy is scheduled to visit New York, Denver and Chicago, but plans have yet to be finalized.

The Houston show is not all about Lucy, according to museum President Joel Bartsch, who worked with the Ethiopian government in organizing the exhibition.

"Very few people in North America have an understanding about what Ethiopia is all about," Bartsch said. The Ethiopian government "decided they wanted to take Lucy ... and use her as a goodwill ambassador to get people to come to the exhibition, and while they're there, learn about all that Ethiopia has to offer beyond the prehistoric stuff."

To that end, "Lucy's Legacy" offers more than 100 artifacts &

including fossils, paintings, coins, musical instruments and religious artifacts &

that will enlighten visitors about the country's heritage. A 78-foot-long, 10-foot-high mural displayed in an almost complete circle represents 6 million years of human evolution and is set against a changing environment of flora and fauna. The exhibit also includes the first coins ever minted by an indigenous African civilization, which were formed in Aksum during the reign of King Endubis (AD 270-300).

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