A Letter From Lucy: Making no bones about it. (Pun intended)

January 25, 2008

The other day, I got a visit from Mike. He seemed to be quite an upstanding guy. My kind, really. I had always wondered what would happen to my family. Would they thrive? Would they all be eaten by wild animals before they got a chance to leave Africa? So many questions and no answers. After 3 million years, the wondering can drive you nuts!

And then, I got the chance to travel to North America. Again. This time to see people. I’ve met thousands since arriving, and been amazed at how many different kinds there are – and how happy most seem to see me. Then, there was Mike.

I saw him early in January this year. I’ve been here a while now, so I’ve got the first-impressions thing down. As we exchanged greetings, I passed along my best wishes and a Happy New Millennium from all the folks back home in Ethiopia.

Mike seemed perturbed though. He thanked me for the wishes, but then his eyes kind of glazed over. He seemed not just to see through me, but rather past me. Instead of learning about me, he seemed lost in his own thoughts. As if he did not get who I was and what I represented. I wanted to shout “Mike! It’s me! Lucy. You know, one of your distant ancestors.”

My cries were left unanswered. Mike slowly turned and walked away. “Oh, well,” I thought, “at least he seems to be doing well.” Still bipedal and obviously a much bigger brain. I’m so proud! Uses fancy tools too, it looked like. I never got a chance to use them, and I’m still trying to figure out what most of them are for. We had to survive using our small brains, see. No stone-tipped spears, no burning torches to keep the animals at bay. Definitely no cell phones. Instead we climbed trees at night to stay out of trouble and during the day, as we stood upright – “Just like you, Mike,” I kept thinking – we kept an eye out for predators. Not easy being me, you know. But we all managed somehow.

In fact, I was happy to learn that my kind was around for 600,000 years. Mike, I understand that your people have been around for about 200,000 years. Cool. Keep up the good work. Another 400,000 years and you’ll have been just as successful as we were.

But you left me with a lingering concern for your doubts. I kept thinking “Here I am, Mike. Real bones. Real fossilized remains.” You seemed unimpressed. “Not a replica, and certainly not a fake either,” I wanted to add, but to no avail. You were gone.

Mike, I’ll make no bones about it: thank you for your visit. I was very glad to meet you. But you should use that large brain you’ve got; it’s telling you to look deeper. There is more to me than what you saw.

I am Lucy, and you are my legacy.

PS: Not to hurt your feelings, but I have had dates before, Mike. One guy really fancied me. I think I like him, too.


Authored By Dirk Van Tuerenhout

As curator of anthropology, Dirk is responsible for the museum’s artifact collection and is involved in its temporary and permanent anthropology exhibits. Dirk is an expert in human cultures; he curates the Museum’s Hall of the Americas and specializes in native American cultures like the Aztec and Maya.

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