One of the most accomplished paleoanthropologists of our time, Donald C. Johanson, will give a talk called What’s New in the Last Few Million Years tomorrow, July 9, at 7:30 p.m. at the Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center on Centre street in Vineyard Haven.
Dr. Johanson has produced some of the field’s groundbreaking discoveries, including the most widely known and thoroughly studied fossil find of the 20th century — the Lucy skeleton.
His program is appropriate for children as young as fifth or sixth grade, and the cost is $15.
Since Charles Darwin posed the theory of evolution in his 1859 publication On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, scientists have speculated about humankind’s place in nature. Darwin postulated that not only was the human species a product of the evolutionary process, but deep in the prehistoric past we actually shared a common ancestor with the African apes. Although the 20th century has been peppered with important fossil hominid finds from both eastern and southern Africa, it was Dr. Johanson’s 1974 discovery of a 3.2 million-year-old hominid fossil in Ethiopia that added a crucial link. Lucy, as the skeleton was called, prompted ongoing debate and major revisions in out knowledge and understanding of the human evolutionary past. The skeleton possessed an intriguing mixture of ape-like features such as a projecting face and small brain, but also characteristics we consider human, such as upright walking. Lucy continues to be a diadem in the crown of hominid fossils and serves as an important touchstone for all subsequent discoveries.
In the 34 years since Dr. Johanson earned his Ph.D. at the University of Chicago, he has led field explorations in Ethiopia, Tanzania and the Middle East and effectively reached across multiple media platforms, hosting and narrating the Emmy-nominated PBS/NOVA series In Search of Human Origins, co-authoring eight books and lecturing to share his findings and stimulate debate.
Driven by a notion that we cannot fully grasp who we are and where we are headed as a species until we have a more complete knowledge of our evolutionary roots, Dr. Johanson founded and directs the Institute of Human Origins, a human evolution think tank. He co-authored with the late Vineyard Haven resident Maitland Edey the 1981 awardwinning Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind. Dr. Johanson’s most recent book is the 2006 From Lucy to Language. He is currently at work on a new book to be published this year called Lucy’s Legacy, A fossil icon’s legacy in the search for human origins. For details, call 508-693-0745.