Obama viewed and touched the fossilized bones of Lucy, a 3.2 million-year-old partial skeleton of an early human ancestor, at Ethiopia’s National Palace just before attending a state dinner in his honor.
The bones of the female hominid were laid out in a box and introduced by Dr. Zeresenay Alemseged, head of the California Academy of Sciences.
Alemseged spoke about how the bones show all human beings are connected.
“It shows that every single person here, 7 billion people, including Donald Trump, came down through the chain,” he said.
“That’s amazing,” Obama replied. “So Lucy was on the chain to Homo sapiens.”
The researcher explained there is evidence that the first Homo sapiens emerged in Ethiopia several generations after Lucy lived.
Alemseged even encouraged Obama to touch the bones, a privilege only few have enjoyed.
“Extraordinary people have extraordinary access,” Alemseged told reporters.
A plaster replica, and not the original skeleton, is usually on display at Ethiopia’s National Museum. The bones have not left the museum in two years.
Obama appeared excited about the fossils, so much so he returned to the impromptu exhibit with some of the lawmakers traveling with him on his Africa trip.
“He wanted to share his excitement with his colleagues,” Alemseged said.
“Lucy” is the common name of AL-288-1 — several hundred pieces of bone representing 40 percent of a female Australopithecus afarensis. American anthropologist Donald Johanson and a team of researchers discovered the bones in 1974 in Ethiopia’s Afar region.
Obama reflected on seeing Lucy during his toast at the state dinner.
“We are reminded that Ethiopians, Americans, all the people of the world are part of the same human family, the same chain,” he said. “So much of the hardship and conflict and sadness and violence that occurs around the world is because we forget that fact. We look at superficial differences as opposed to seeing the fundamental connection that we all share.”