by Nicola Speroni
and Florence Concierge Information

"Lorenzo" the great-nephew of "Lucy"

"Lorenzo" was discovered on December 12th last year in the Eritrean part of the Danakil district. This is the nickname given to the skull of a primitive man who lived two million years ago, and which probably belonged to one of the most archaic forms of homo erectus to have been found to this date. This exceptional discovery was made by a group of scholars, six geologists (E.Abbate, M.Sagri, P.Bruni, M.Benvenuti, M.Papini, P.Ghetti), and four paleontologists (A.Azzaroli, G.Ficcarelli, L.Rook, D.Torre), from the Department of Sciences of the Earth of the University of Florence. This discovery was not a casual one: for some time the Florentine scientists had been sure that they would eventually be able to find something interesting in the area, though this may appear strange to us. In fact, although today the Danakil district is one of the most inhospitable regions in the world, because temperatures easily reach 50 C and the entire region is now almost a total desert, it once must have been a sort of paradise on earth, with lakes and extremely luxuriant vegetation. Graffiti and the fossils that have been found indicate that the first men came from this part of Africa, from the Danakil district. This region, split up between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti, covers an area of fifty-thousand square kilometres and its shores are bathed by the Red Sea. Lorenzo's skull was discovered by Lorenzo Rook among Pliocene lacustrine sediments which thus fixed its first approximate dating. It was given the name of "Lorenzo" in honour of its discoverer as well as to connect it romantically, with Manzonian inspiration, to its "great aunt" Lucy, one and a half million years older, discovered by some American geologists in Ethiopia in the seventies. The expeditions of the Florentine Department of the Sciences of the Earth to East Africa have now become a tradition. A great many journeys have been made for scientific purposes to Eritrea, Ethiopia and to the whole of this part of Africa, starting with Giotto Dainelli in the thirties, then continued by G.Merla in the sixties, and now by the scholars of today. All these expeditions have led to the preparation of a large number of books, geological and topographical maps. Moreover there is a general air of "nostalgia for Africa" at the university faculty so that, as soon as they can, teachers and students try and get posted to this country. Returning to our "Lorenzo", we would also like to add that the jaw-bone, part of the pelvis and the left phalanx were also found at the same time as the skull. The skull alone is an exceptional discovery, apart from anything else: not only is the nape of the neck eighteen centimetres wide, the state of preservation of the neural part of the skull is also quite extraordinary, and will make it possible to construct a model of the brain that can then be used to compare this skull with those of other primitive men. This expedition was fairly adventurous just like all the others to Africa. Camps were set up in some very inhospitable places, so that there was some risk, among other things, of meeting up with ferocious or dangerous animals. The scientists were moreover forced to live in extemely precarious sanitary and hygenic conditions. It must also be said that all these difficulties make these journeys even more fascinating so that people taking part in them learn to appreciate the real values of life. Now the Paleontological Museum in Via La Pira 4 is anxiously awaiting the arrival of the finds, which are hopefully on their way thanks to an agreement with the Eritrean government. The radiographic type examinations, computerized analyses and measurements of the brain will all be carried out here. When all the analyses have been completed, the discoveries will be exhibited in the Museum and can be viewed by the public. This will give us a chance to find out more about our past and how we evolved.

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