More than 100 people gathered in a ballroom in Portland, Oregon, yesterday evening for an unusual cast party. The stars were not living actors, however, but the casts of skulls, bones, and teeth of important members of the human family. The fossils included the partial skeletons of Lucy from Hadar, Ethiopia; Australopithecus sediba from Malapa, South Africa; and the fingernail-size sliver of bone of a new type of archaic human from Denisova Cave in Siberia, Russia.
Paleoanthropologist John Hawks of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, explained that he organized the 12 April share-and-tell session of published fossils at the annual meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists because many members have never even seen casts of important fossils, including Lucy, the 3.1-million-year-old member of Au. afarensis. As he lined up three skulls that showed changes in the evolution of the members of the human family from 1.8 million to 1.6 million years ago, Hawks said that seeing the fossils is the best way to learn about human evolution. "There are people in this association who are responsible for teaching evolution in the U.S. who have not even seen a cast of Lucy," he said.
The vice president of the association, Karen Rosenberg of the University of Delaware, Newark, asked Hawks to arrange the session after paleoanthropologist Lee Berger of the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa, donated casts of two partial skeletons of Au. sediba to the association. Hawks was able to gather casts from 17 institutions, including museums and universities in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America.