Ethiopia: Will the real Lucy please stand up

Great, great, great grandma Lucy has escaped from a museum in Addis Ababa. Seen

Our great, great, great grandma Lucy has apparently escaped from a museum in Addis Ababa. have you seen her?


She was the woman who made strolling upright chic when knuckle-dragging was the in-thing. Now, it seems, Lucy’s up and walked off again – and experts and punters alike can’t agree on where she’s gone or when she’ll be returning to her homeland.

Her 3.2m year old skeletal remains are the most complete human ancestor (as yet) discovered, uncovered in the Afar Depression, Ethiopia, back in 1974. Until recently she was reportedly living happily ever after at her home of many years: the National Museum of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa.

Some maintain she’s still lives there, but conflicting reports also place her in various exotic locations: some tourists say she’s found her way to the British Museum in London; while many locals believe she’s on an American road trip.

On the bustling street outside the museum, locals with vested interests still want to believe she’s on home turf: proprietors of restaurants such as the Lucy Fast Food serve up themed food – which thankfully is not quite as old or semi-human as its namesake. Stalls sell canary yellow and Kermit green T-shirts worshipping Dinknesh (‘Wonderful’ as the Ethiopians prefer to call her).

But inside the museum, subtle clues to her escape begin to pile up like so much discarded dirt when you dig around the interior of the modernist concrete building.

Most tellingly, one of the discoveries of this century, the one and only first organism to walk upright on two legs, is surprisingly relegated to the basement of the three-storey museum – and a small, insignificant corner of it at that!

And security seems negligently lax: the entire contents of the (non-alarmed) fragile glass-topped wooden display box could have been stuffed into my day pack without anyone noticing – ifit wasn’t for those pesky kids…

The fanfare for an A-lister such as Lucy also seems inordinately minimalist: just a few posters and assorted knick-knacks – including a rather unfortunate ‘real-life’ image portraying what our chimpanzee-brain-sized great, great, great grandma may have looked like, well, if she was posing for a police line-up (in the buff) that is.

I simply can’t believe that Ethiopia has lost that loving feeling for this 70s lovechild (whose English name owes a legacy to The Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds).

Yet sharing her basement accommodation is the Notochoerus – basically just a giant trippy prehistoric relative of the warthog – gets a whole room to itself; modern down-lights and a massive pastel mural of him chasing a massive rat to boot. Even prehistoric pigs get more respect than Lucy!

On the upper floors there’s a chronological journey through the virtues of Ethiopian martial and royal history including the figure of scary modern general encased in glass with full accoutrements (Madame Tussauds-style; at least I think it’s not a real body) and countless references to every Ethiopians’ (and Rastafarians’) favourite formerly living god, Haile Selassie.

Meanwhile, down in the basement, as it turns out, Lucy fans are simply greeted with a 3.5-ft life-after-death-sized ruse, a plaster counterfeit – with no explanation of her fate. There’s an imposter in our midst!

So where is she? The British Museum notion, espoused mainly by English tourists, has been poo-pooed as have many somewhat wilder theories including one saying that Lucy is currently working in the Greek Treasury.

A member of the National Museum’s gift shop staff says she’s on a year-long museum tour of America. An unofficial guide says she on a five-year tour of America, with two years left to go.

A museum insider says she’s currently in Texas and will be back in a couple of years – but she won’t ever go on public display in Ethiopia; apparently she’s just too valuable.

There’s a guest-book-based grass-roots campaign to bring Lucy home earlier. The museum’s book is full of pleas: “Very interesting but please get the real Lucy back,” writes Rosa from Italy. “So good but we want the original,” says Anaku (Ethiopia).

There are quite a few B-listers in the National Museum to keep the public coming (and it’s well worth the US 70 cents entry fee). But, make no bones about it, Ethiopians want their first lady back home sooner rather than later.

Steve Madgwick