Ethiopia to Exhibit 'Lucy' Fossil in United States

ADDIS ABABA - Ethiopia is to allow "Lucy" - its world-famous, 3.2-million-year-old skeleton - to travel abroad for the first time for an exhibition in the United States that it hopes will encourage more visits by American tourists.

The fossil's discovery in 1974 was a landmark in the history of uncovering the origins of humanity, representing the most complete human-like fossil to have been found until that time.

Lucy, stored in a vault in an Ethiopian museum, and other Ethiopian artifacts including crowns and scepters of ancient monarchs are due to be put on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science in Texas in 2006.

"The objective of the exhibition is to promote Ethiopia's tourism potential by revealing to American viewers the country's unmatched historical importance as the cradle of mankind and land of significant archaeological discovery," Ethiopian Commissioner for Tourism Abdullahi Suker told a news conference in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia, one of the world's poorest countries, is keen to lure more visitors to attractions including archaeological sites, centuries-old churches carved into solid rock and ancient cities like Axum to earn more foreign currency.

Ethiopia's 1998-2000 border war with Eritrea hit tourist earnings, and the country that bills itself as having "13 months of sunshine" due to its unique calendar is hoping more foreign visitors will help fuel a revival.

Ethiopia's national museum in Addis Ababa displays only a replica of Lucy - named after the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" by its discoverers - but the original will be put on display in Texas.

A visiting U.S. delegation led by Texas Secretary of State Geoffrey Connor said the display would help improve tourist flows to Ethiopia, as well as earn up to $7 million in tourist revenue for Houston.

"While the cultural importance of the exhibit cannot be overestimated, there is real economic benefit in bringing Lucy to Texas," he said.

But a leading Ethiopian opposition member of parliament, Beyene Petros, said the government should have launched a promotional campaign to attract more visitors to Ethiopia, rather than allow Lucy to leave the country.

"By sending the country's tourist attraction to a foreign country, our tourism officials are discouraging those who would have wanted to travel here to see Lucy's remains," he said.