Renowned anthropologist Donald C. Johanson to speak at WFU

By Jacob McConnico
February 11, 2004

Donald C. JohansonDonald C. Johanson, the Virginia M. Ullman Chair in Human Origins and director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University, will present “The Origin of Humankind: The View from Africa” in Wake Forest University’s Wait Chapel at 7 p.m. Feb. 26. The talk is free and open to the public.

Johanson, probably the best-known paleoanthropologist in the United States, achieved celebrity status with his 1974 discovery of a 3 million-year-old skeleton – popularly known as “Lucy” – in the Hadar region of Ethiopia. The Lucy skeleton has had a profound impact on the understanding of early human evolution, and Johanson’s popular book, “Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind,” which he co-wrote in 1981 with Maitland Edey, won the American Book Award in Science.

The lecture is offered as part of Wake Forest’s theme year, “Fostering Dialogue: Civil Discourse in an Academic Community,” which is dedicated to exploring how free people with passionate interests and beliefs can communicate openly without turning dialogue into discord. It is sponsored by the university’s anthropology department, the Museum of Anthropology, the Comparative Medicine Clinical Research Center at the Wake Forest School of Medicine, the Divinity School, the theme year committee, the religion department, Chi Psi Fraternity and the Dean of the College.

“This year marks the 30th anniversary of the discovery of Lucy, which was the most complete fossil hominid ever known at the time of its discovery,” said Ellen Miller, associate professor of anthropology at Wake Forest and an organizer of the event. “The discovery has revolutionized all kinds of things, and the type of work that Johanson does in human origins can be very controversial. The diverse group of sponsors for this event is really a perfect example of how you can have civil discourse on a difficult topic in an academic setting.”

Johanson continued his work in the field in Ethiopia in 1975, where he discovered “The First Family,” a collection of 13 early hominids that died in a single geological moment. In that same year, Johanson was appointed curator of physical anthropology at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

In 1976, he developed a laboratory of physical anthropology that attracted scholars from all over the world, and in 1981, Johanson founded the Institute of Human Origins, in Berkeley, Calif., which was moved to Arizona State University in 1997.

Johanson has carried out field research in Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Tanzania. He is the author of “Blueprints: Solving the Mystery of Evolution,” “Lucy’s Child,” “Journey From the Dawn,” “Ancestors: In Search of Human Origins” and “From Lucy to Language.” The films “The First Family” and “Lucy in Disguise” highlight the work of Johanson and his team in Ethiopia.

He was host of the PBS Nature series and narrated the National Geographic Society film “Fossils: Clues to the Past.” Johanson is host and narrator of a three-part PBS/NOVA series titled “In Search of Human Origins,” which first aired in February 1994.

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