Earlier this year, Berhane Asfaw described to a rapt audience in Addis Ababa how he found a 160,000 year-old fossil skull — one of the earliest known members of our species — near the village of Herto in his native Ethiopia. The achievement underscored the fact that Ethiopians have become major players in human-origins research.
Until recently no black Africans led fossil expeditions, and few did paleoanthropology research in their own countries. Instead, many of these scientists took jobs in the United States or Europe, because funding this type of research is a luxury for African governments fighting AIDS and famine.
But in this article, Ann Gibbons reports that researchers are gradually returning. Some come back every year to do fieldwork while others, such as Asfaw, return on a permanent basis. Maintaining links with their home countries does more than benefit science. It sets an example for younger Africans, offers opportunities for mentoring and raises the profile of human-origins research locally.
Reference: Science 301, 1178 (2003)