Wednesday, October 31: After we drive down from the Entoto Mountains, we head for lunch at the Lucy Gazebo Restaurant, attached to the National Museum of Ethiopia.
The outdoor Lucy Gazebo Restaurant is lush with tropical plants, decorative sculptures and Ethiopian art. I start with carrot soup and then eat a delicious chicken avocado pizza with tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms and cheese.
Next door, the National Museum of Ethiopia houses one of the most important collections in sub-Saharan Africa, according to Lonely Planet Ethiopia & Eritrea.
The paleontology exhibit on the basement level showcases the extinct sabre-toothed cat Homotherium and the huge savannah pig Notochoerus.
The most interesting things are the two amazing casts of the 3.2 million year-old Lucy, a fossilized hominid discovered in 1974. One lies prone in a glass case and the other is standing. Her small frame is a reminder of how small our ancestors were.
According to one of the museum’s curators, the real bones, which are normally preserved in the museum’s archives, are currently on tour in the USA. Lucy’s tour begins at the Houston Museum of Natural History; after Houston, she travels to Seattle, Boston and back to Houston. Lucy’s pilgrimage is designed to let the international community know Ethiopia’s importance to the history of humans.
Lucy was discovered in a dried-up lake near Hadar in northeast Ethiopia. This new species, called A. afarensis walked on two legs, which overturned earlier theories that our ancestors only started walking upright after they evolved larger brains.
When I walk into the basement, one of the museum’s curators is opening the glass case that contains the casts of Lucy’s prone bones. He takes one of the finger bones and hands it over to a group of young men who want to borrow it. This group is making a film showing primates’ connection to humans through Lucy and they want to borrow the cast finger bone for their documentary. This seems quite crazy to me, as I cannot imagine a curator at any museum in the USA taking out a piece of an exhibit and handing it over to someone to “borrow!”
The center of the ground floor of the museum showcases a collection of royal paraphernalia including Emperor Haile Selassie’s enormous carved wooden throne. On the walls of this central area are paintings of Ethiopia’s rulers, including Emperor Menelik, Emperor Yohannes, and of course Haile Selassie. Surprisingly, among these emperors is a painting of Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam, the leader of the horrible Derg (Committee) that deposed Haile Selassie in 1974. Their destructive rule, including the Red Terror, lasted until 1991.
On the periphery of the ground floor are artifacts from the pre-Aksumite, Aksumite, Solomonic and Gonder periods.
On the first floor, what we in America call the 2nd floor, is a colorful display of Ethiopian art ranging from early parchment to 20th century canvas oil paintings by modern artists, including Afewerk Tekle’s African Heritage.
Finally, on the top floor, we find a secular arts and crafts collection, including traditional clothing, weapons, jewelry, utensils and musical instruments.