Google archaeology

2 minute read

Webcrawlers turn up strange news from the past sometimes. Here's a case in point, from a 2001 Addis Tribune article:

AL-444 Safe In Museum
ARCCH Refutes Allegations of a Missing Hominid Fossil
By Our Staff Reporter
The AL- 444, the specimen of Lucy's type is safe in the Ethiopian National Museum. Ato Jara Hailemariam, General Manager of the Authority for Research and Conservation of Cultural Heritage (ARCCH) in the Ministry of Information and Culture was reacting to widespread allegations that have first been published on the now defunct Amharic Daily Eletawi Addis on March 13, 2001.
"AL-444 was out for a CT scan, a procedure unavailable in Ethiopia, to Austria, and was returned promptly within the domain of the agreement reached with Austrian scientists currently undertaking paleoanthropological studies in the Afar Depression," Jara told Addis Tribune quoting an agreement entered with Professor Horst Seidler of the Institute of Anthropology at Vienna University, Austria. The scanning of the fossil, Jara said, was meant to help provide scientific information.

It all seems to have been a misunderstanding, as a later article from the next week makes clear, but not without additional confusion:

Austrian Scientist Denies Making Cast of AL 444
The dispute over A.L. 444 took a different turn this week when allegations and counter allegations begun taking shape in the capital. Dr. Berhane Asfaw denied having said A.L. 444 was not returned back to Ethiopia after it was taken out to Austria for a computer tomography (CT) scan. "I did not say the fossil was not returned to Ethiopia," Berhane, a member of the Middle Awash Paleoanthropological Research Project, a team involved in the fossil hunt in Ethiopia to determine human evolution, told Addis Tribune in a telephone conversation mid this week. He was reacting to last week's story reported by Tribune citing Eletawi Addis (March 13, 2001) where he was quoted by the paper's reporter as saying that the hominid fossil was not returned from Austria after it was taken by Professor Horst Seidler of the Institute of Anthropology, University of Austria for a CT scan. Berhane said Eletawi carried an erratum the next day. In that erratum, Berhane was again quoted to have said, "It is not the original fossil but the copy that was not returned to Ethiopia."
Meanwhile, Seidler who was in town over the weekend told Tribune that there is no such thing as a "copy" of A.L. 444 in Austria. "I have no cast, no copy of that fossil in Austria," he said venting frustrations at having been made to react to allegations, which he notes have continued nagging him for no apparent reason. "In accordance with our agreement with the ARCCH, I have made a CT scan of the fossil which shows the data of the specimen; and they are locked away even from me until the scientists who have discovered it publish a monograph on their find."

It's all old news, at least if you get the Addis Tribune. Of course the AL 444 monograph was published last year, so it will be wonderful to be able to buy the data from the University of Vienna digital archive.

"The agreement we have reached clearly stipulates that the fossil would be CT scanned and not have it published on CD-ROM and make it available for distribution"