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Q&A: Donald Johanson

Anthropologist

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Anthropologist Donald Johanson will talk about evolution and finding "Lucy" at Rhodes College at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the Bryan Center on Tuesday, March 25th.

Lucy — the name was borrowed from the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds," which expedition members played over and over in celebration after "her" discovery — is one of the oldest and best-preserved skeletons of a walking-erect human ancestor. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Johanson is director of the Institute for the Study of Human Origins at Arizona State University. — by John Branston

Flyer: What can Memphis expect from the man who discovered Lucy?

Johanson: They can expect a presentation on the importance of Lucy, not only in my life but in our understanding of some of the early stages of the origins of humans. Since the discovery in 1974, Lucy has become the touchstone by which the average person enters into an understanding of human evolution.

People should also expect to hear a little about how we go about running expeditions like this.

What is Lucy's importance?

Lucy sits on the family tree at an interesting point between our more primitive apelike ancestors and our first glimpse at creatures walking fully upright, and she is probably the last common ancestor to later branches, including the one that led to modern humans.

So the earth is not 6,000 years old?

That's right. Lucy is 3.2 million years old, and that is really well documented in geological dating.

Are you ever picketed when you give talks?

No, I never have been.

You're coming to the heart of the Bible Belt. Do you do a lot of lectures in the South?

I've lectured all around Georgia and always had an appreciative audience.

Are you surprised at the ongoing debate about evolution and creation?

It's not surprising. Different people have various views of how the world got to be the way it is. Some focus on a belief-system brand of religion without scientific substance. Others are more scientific.

As anthropologist Ashley Montagu said, "Science has proof without certainty and religion has certainty without proof." From the scientific point of view, we have to look within the framework of evolution. And there are people who accept both explanations — that whatever or whoever the creator was, evolution was his/her way of bringing about humans.

Is it true that you had low S.A.T. scores in high school?

I did not do well on the tests. I thought they were not culture-free, and I said, "I am not going to study for this." My high school guidance counselor in Chicago said I should go to trade school and study electronics.

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