Barack Obama came to Africa partially to connect with the continent of his forefathers.
On Monday, he met an ancestor of an altogether different kind: “Lucy,” the 3.2 million-year-old partial skeleton of a hominid discovered in Ethiopia.
“That’s amazing,” the US president said of the bones, which were brought specially for him to view from a museum to the National Palace, where he was attending a state dinner.
Mr Obama is on a two-country tour of Africa that started in Kenya, where his father was born. He arrived in Ethiopia on Sunday and returns to the United States on Tuesday.
Scientists told reporters the valuable partial skeleton was transported secretly and under tight security out of its museum. Mr Obama was invited to touch one of the bones, something usually only permitted for scientists.
“We honour Ethiopia as the birthplace of humankind. In fact, I just met Lucy, our oldest ancestor,” Mr Obama told attendees at the state dinner later in the evening.
“When you see our ancestor … we are reminded that Ethiopians, Americans, all the people of the world are part of the same human family, the same chain,” Mr Obama said to applause.
Some commentators have questioned why Mr Obama was allowed to touch the fossil.
Lucy’s bones were taken on a six-year exhibition tour of the US from 2008-2013, despite Don Johanson, who discovered the fossil, stating that although he was somewhat uneasy about the possibility of damage.
But Ehtiopian scientist Dr Zeresenay Alemseged, who was on hand to answer questions the president had about Lucy, said “Extraordinary people have extraordinary access.”
A little bit of American politics crept into the moment as well.
Dr Alemsegard referenced Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, the billionaire businessman who claimed for a long time that Obama was not born in the United States.
“It shows that every single person here, 7 billion people, including Donald Trump, came down through the chain,” said Dr Alemseged, referring to Lucy’s place in the evolution of humankind.
Source: The Telegraph, UK