3.2 million year old Australopithecus afarensis fossil exhibit illuminated human history, helped develop stronger ties between U.S. and Ethiopia
(Austin, Texas) — The six-year, 4-city touring exhibit of Lucy, the 3.2 million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis fossil and likely oldest relative of humans, came to a close on Sunday at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, California. Lucy will now return to Addis Adaba for an exhibit to coincide with the African Union’s meeting in May 2014.
In 2004, Senator Rodney Ellis helped lead a Texas delegation from the public and private sector to Ethiopia for an 8-day, and then repeated trips with Gezahgen Kebede, Consul General at the Ethiopian Consulate in Houston to secure the Lucy archeological exhibit for Houston. The Lucy exhibition was housed at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in 2007 and 2008, attracting over 210,000 visitors. Lucy then appeared in New York City and Seattle before the showcase outside of Los Angeles.
“The Lucy Exhibit has been a masterpiece detailing man’s journey through this world,” Ellis said. “Across the nation, nearly ½ a million people have seen the exhibition and learned more about how life on this planet has evolved. Furthermore, Lucy has been an ambassador of good will for Ethiopia, and has helped strengthen the cultural and economic bonds between Texas and the Ethiopian people.”
“Lucy,” an almost complete skeleton estimated to be at least 3.2 million years old and is Ethiopia’s world-acclaimed archeological find. It was discovered near the Awash River in 1974, and is considered the most important early hominid fossil. Using scientific casts of Lucy and other major fossil finds from Africa and Europe, this exhibit traces the physical and cultural changes of human ancestors from 3 million years ago to about 20,000 years ago.
Texas’ cultural and economic ties with Ethiopia have strengthened since the beginning of the Lucy exhibit tour. In 2003, Texas exports to Ethiopia totaled $73,483,082 and included crop production and processed foods, printing and related products, machinery and transportation equipment. In 2012, Texas exports had risen to $97,198,461. Texas imported $6,657,992 from Ethiopia in 2012.
Senator Ellis’ interest in Ethiopia extends beyond the importance of the Lucy Exhibition. He served as Congressman Mickey Leland’s Chief of Staff. A six-term Congressman, Leland was a champion of the poor, the homeless and the hungry both at home and abroad. His passion took him to Ethiopia and other areas in sub-Saharan Africa many times facilitating delivery of relief supplies and mediating conflicts, some involving state-sponsored terrorism.
Leland believed strongly that if change is to be long-term, young people have to be a part of the process, to see firsthand what the issues and possibilities are. That prompted him to start his Congressional Internship Program through which college students were integrated into every aspect of his legislative operations. Ellis has modeled his Texas Legislative Internship Program on the Leland program.