The Man Who Loved Lucy
On July 18, Donald Johanson moved his Institute of Human Origins from Berkeley, California, to the Social Sciences building at Arizona State University. Johanson, 54, and two of his colleagues at the anthropological research institute will join the university as faculty.
Johanson is a paleoanthropologist, an expert on prehistoric man, and he is that rare scientist who manages to become an acclaimed popular author and television personality. During more than 20 years at the forefront--some would say in the limelight--of his science, he's picked a bone or two. His colleagues either accept him as a dedicated researcher or denounce him a poseur.
He is best known for his 1974 discovery of a fossilized human ancestor that he whimsically named Lucy, and with which he redirected our understanding of human origins.
The soul of Lucy resides in a glass case that could easily fit on a bookcase shelf. Judging from her skeleton, she was no bigger than a 4-year-old, even though she was somewhere between 14 and 25 years old when she died more than three million years ago.
The apparent bones wired together in the glass box are plaster casts. The real things are locked in a vault in Ethiopia, where they were found, and they aren't really bones at all, but rather fossils, solid rock that crept into the molecules of bone over the millennia.
Nonetheless, enough of Lucy's essence has been transferred to the plaster casts that she seems to radiate out of the box.
Johanson calls the vibe "a trait of humanity that reaches across eons.
"To realize as I did when I picked up that first bone of Lucy that here was a creature that was in suspended animation for over 3.2 million years, that was a living person, an upright, bipedal walking species. I was 31 years old at the time, still very impressionable, and I picked it up and reanimated it."
Johanson named her Lucy because, on the night of the find, as his expedition crew members drank beer in celebration, they were listening to the Beatles singing "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" on a tape deck. He named her species Australopithecus afarensis.
Then, with his former collaborator, Tim White, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley, Johanson used this find to blow the theories of the reigning authorities on human origins at that time, Richard Leakey and his mother, Mary Leakey, back to the Stone Age.
The Leakeys held fast to the egocentric notion that what makes man human is his big brain. Lucy's skull--what's left of it--is as tiny as a baby's, and in many ways resembles an ape's.
But Lucy's species walked upright, so, unlike its ape cousins, it could come down out of the trees and cover greater distances. Since it didn't need to touch its hands to the ground for balance, it could more easily carry food back to its lair.
And because of its tiny size, Johanson and his colleagues realized that man's earliest ancestor was not a noble predator using superior intellect to overpower larger beasts; it was prey, a scavenger who dashed furtively out of the bush to steal what the jackals and the buzzards had left behind while trying not to be eaten itself. Its evolutionary offspring--our forebears--survived and proliferated, not because they were preordained, not because they were superior beings, but because they were adaptable like cockroaches, clever like coyotes.
All of which is an ignoble notion for any dignified, modern human to swallow.
"We're an egocentric species," Johanson says. "Still lingering in textbooks is this view that everything was driving us to bigger brains, that Homo sapiens is the nadir."
And still lingering is the silly thought, as Johanson puts it, that "a chimpanzee steps into the evolutionary tunnel and a white European male steps out the other end."
No less a scientific authority than National Geographic magazine created a face for Lucy that depicted her with warm and wise eyes and a Mona Lisa smile. A human face, in other words, instead of a survival-oriented animal's.
"We're dealing with the origins of ourselves, and there is a magic in that," says Johanson.
"It's a very personal science in the sense that we're not talking about the origin and aberration of the hummingbird," he says. "We're talking about us. And I think probably over the years, I have appreciated more that emotional attachment."
Which is a good thing for Johanson, because in April, when the Arizona Board of Regents voted to approve the IHO's move to Tempe, it set as a condition that the university also assess its course offerings in "alternative theories of human origins and evolution."
The word "creationism" was never uttered, but was on everyone's mind. The anthropology and religion departments voiced their annoyance. Clearly, the theory of evolution is still a controversial and emotional issue, even in 1997, even in a university setting.
The field of paleoanthropology is racked with a one-upmanship that is based as much in ego as in finances.
"If you're going to get $200,000 for a three-year grant, yes, you're going to have to find something or you're not going to get another one," says Dr. Kaye Reed, the junior IHO scientist.
The most something, the oldest something else, all subject to interpretations that can be bumped off by the next big find.
"It's amazing how they never find a fossil that supports the other guy's point of view," says James Shreeve, who co-authored one of Johanson's books. "It's still an objective science."
Johanson and Tim White bumped the Leakeys off the top of the paleoanthropological summit. And now, though they were longtime collaborators, Johanson and White don't even speak to each other.
"This science has a long history of personality being mixed with the science," White says.
And in fact, White's no-nonsense personality is often described as thorny or prickly or some other adjective with a point.
In 1994, the Institute of Human Origins exploded, with several board members accusing Johanson of spending more time chasing fame and fortune with his popular books and television documentaries than he was spending on science. Never mind that the mass-media projects are truly marvelous works that clearly convey the magic and mystery of human origins. Such popularization and Johanson's high profile rub less user-friendly scientists raw. Somehow in their eyes his celebrity makes them question his credentials as a "pure scientist."
Paul Renne is president of Berkeley Geochronology Center, the entity that broke away from IHO in 1994. "[Johanson] is a captivating speaker," he says. "He's articulate. He knows far more than the average lay person."
Of course, to call Johanson a "lay person" is about as insulting as saying that Tiger Woods is an above-average duffer, but it illustrates the acrimony of the IHO split.
Renne backpedals: "He's not regarded as being one of the great thinkers in physical anthropology. What he has done is sponsor research to make things happen so that new fossils, very important fossils, are found."
On the other hand, Tim White, who is one of the great thinkers of physical anthropology, makes no bones about Johanson's ability to assess fossils.
"Johanson is one of the best morphologists I've ever worked with," he says. "He knows form."
In the beginning, there was a knee joint.
The Afar triangle is named for the Ethiopian tribe that lives there, and it's a roiling, barren desert, a point where the plates of the Earth are literally pulling apart, virtually vomiting up what was buried millions of years ago. With each season's rains, prehistoric human and animal fossils wash out of the hillsides.
There is a short but telling scene in a 1994 film Johanson made for the Nova TV series in which he walks along a path casually picking up fossil teeth, this one a rhino's bicuspid, that one (he plucks a jeweler's loupe from a pocket and scrutinizes it) a giraffe's molar. Neither species has existed in that landscape for millennia.
On a similar stroll in 1973, Johanson noticed the gray glint of fossils, and with that same instant recognition of its anatomy, he knew that he'd found a knee joint. Apes have bent knees, but this joint was straight, meaning that the creature it belonged to stood upright like a hominid, the term used to describe the biological family that includes humans, their ancestors and their extinct cousins. Homo sapiens is in fact the only species in the family that has not gone extinct.
If Johanson did not know which species this knee came from, he soon learned that it was more than three million years old, information he could use to scrape up the funding to come back the next year and find Lucy.
The rest is prehistory.
Johanson is a study in highbrow charm and sophistication. He speaks easily and can pepper his speech with metaphors and analogies that come from literature and opera. He once won a celebrity-chef charity competition judged by Wolfgang Puck and Craig Claiborne by casually whipping up a tureen of "chicken thighs in orange cream sauce."
Journalists often describe him as handsome, and he is, but they use the word in a slightly pejorative fashion. They allude to his wardrobe as "Ralph Lauren" and "Armani." Johanson denies owning garments by either designer.
He does wear clothes well, because he is a man of great natural grace. Johanson moves fluidly and speaks easily, even--perhaps especially--in front of a TV camera. What could make the graceless feel more ill at ease?
A former executive director of IHO once described Johanson's personality as "dramatic." He is as known for his temper as for his largess, and his motives are routinely questioned.
He adopted the adolescent son of one of his Ethiopian employees. The man literally left the boy to Johanson in his will when he died, and Johanson took him in as his own son. Yet among his detractors are some so cynical as to dismiss that extraordinary human gesture as just one more showboat excess.
William Kimbel, however, remembers a generous moment that launched him on the road to becoming a paleoanthropologist himself.
Kimbel had been an undergraduate student of Johanson's at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. By the time he'd discovered Lucy, Johanson had taken a curator's job at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. Kimbel visited him there in his basement office.
"Would you like to see Lucy?" Johanson asked him, and Kimbel, of course, did very much.
Johanson had the original fossils, set into foam-rubber forms in a couple of boxes. He asked Kimbel to have a seat and then set the open boxes on the desk before him.
"I'm going to a meeting. I'll be back in an hour," he said. Kimbel was a 20-year-old college junior left alone with a priceless scientific treasure.
"I was awestruck," Kimbel says. "It was a defining event of some passion."
Kimbel went on to earn a Ph.D. in anthropology and later to become Johanson's closest associate at IHO.
Johanson had his first encounter with the theory of evolution when he was a boy in Chicago, left to roam the library of his mother's friend, a man he refers to as his surrogate father.
"I remember being intimidated by Darwin's Origin of Species because there weren't any pictures in it," he says. "There was one illustration which was a family tree of evolution, which Darwin also got right. It's a bush. It's constantly branching."
As an adult, Johanson helped fill in the details of the human branches on Darwin's bush.
Two of those branches are two main genera of hominids, Homo, to which modern humans, or Homo sapiens, pertains, and the smaller-brained and more apelike Australopithecus. Tim White is now proposing a third, even more apelike genus, Ardipithecus, but will not reveal details until he has completed study of his fossils.
But the debate between the Leakeys on one side and White and Johanson on the other centered on whether Homo developed out of Australopithecus or whether the two evolved from an earlier ancestor and developed on parallel tracks. In fact, various species of Homo and Australopithecus lived at the same time.
In 1972, Richard Leakey had unearthed a fossil skull of the species his father, Louis Leakey, had already named Homo habilis, or "handy man," because of his apparent toolmaking abilities. At more than two million years old, it furthered the Leakey family theory that man's ancestor was a large-brained Homo.
When Johanson found Lucy two years later, he was not sure what he had. He kept searching and, in 1975, discovered a trove of more than 200 more hominid fossils in Hadar, near where Lucy had turned up. Those fossils belonged to several individuals, as if a family group had died together. Johanson and his colleagues called them "the first family," but because some of the bones were so much larger than others, they were not sure if they composed one species or two. The Leakeys pronounced them two separate species; but a defector from the Leakey camp helped Johanson decide otherwise. Tim White was then a University of Michigan graduate student working with Richard Leakey at Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania. When he examined Johanson's first family, he deduced that they were a single species, but that the males were significantly larger than the females, a trait called sexual dimorphism, which is common among apes.
Johanson re-creates the logic on a recent afternoon in Berkeley, using IHO's extensive collection of fossil casts.
"These are like baseball cards," he quips as he lifts and examines plaster bones in the collection's many drawers. "I'll give you a Lucy jaw for a, you know . . .
"Here's Lucy, the top end of her femur," he says, laying the cast on a table.
He chooses a cast from the first family. "Ah, here's another femur: Look at the size of that!"
It's twice as large.
"Okay, hypothesis number one," he says, lifting the bones in turn. "Species A, species B. Then you start finding a pattern, a whole group of big ones anatomically identical to the small ones."
He lays out several of intermediate sizes.
"Hypothesis two--which you can never prove because we can never go back to see--there is sexual dimorphism like in modern-day apes."
To reinforce the point, he selects a cast of Lucy's jaw, then places next to it a much larger one.
"Was that her husband?" he asks. "They're right there in the same area."
With that logic, back in 1977, White and Johanson opted for hypothesis two, and they chose a name for their species: Australopithecus meaning "southern ape," and afarensis after the region of Afar where they found it. Based on thorough studies of afarensis and Homo jaws and teeth, they decided that the bush of evolution had branched at afarensis, that some dead-end species of Australopithecus had arisen, but also the earliest species of Homo. Lucy, in essence, was man's ancestor, and not just a hominid reject of Nature.
Mary Leakey, Richard Leakey's mother, had found jaw fossils similar to Lucy's in Laetoli, Tanzania, along with two sets of hominid footprints forever preserved in a lava field. White and Johanson offered to include Mary Leakey as an author on their journal article officially announcing afarensis. Both Johanson and Leakey were to speak about the finds at a Nobel symposium in Stockholm that was sponsored by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
Johanson was in the airport en route to Stockholm when he got the phone call saying that Mary Leakey no longer wanted to be included in the authorship for the paper.
"Mary didn't like Australopithecines being our ancestors," he says now.
And when Johanson gave his speech at the Nobel symposium, Mary Leakey became enraged because she felt that he had pre-empted her own speech about her Laetoli fossils.
White and Johanson are still incensed about Leakey's pulling out on them. They did little to help the relationship. In 1981, Walter Cronkite invited Richard Leakey and Don Johanson to speak on human origins for his TV series Universe. Leakey was assured that it would not be a debate.
Johanson had brought along a composite afarensis skull that White had helped assemble from various fossil fragments. (White still laughs maniacally at Leakey's accusation that they had fraudulently or stupidly fused pieces of ape and hominid skulls; there were no complete afarensis skulls discovered until 1992). Johanson also brought a poster depicting his evolutionary tree, and he brashly asked Leakey to draw his own version of the tree on a blank space next to his tree.
Instead, an incensed Leakey drew an X over Johanson's chart and then drew a question mark in the blank space. When the cameras stopped rolling, Leakey stormed out of the studio.
That TV performance would help make a name for Johanson. Ironically, another TV performance would indelibly imprint the label of "Hollywood Don."
Johanson and everyone close to him points to the case of Johanson's late friend Carl Sagan, who also suffered from television taint. Although Sagan was an active scientist who participated in the space program (even winning awards from NASA), won a Pulitzer Prize and greatly helped in science's understanding of the universe, he was ridiculed for his excellent television series Cosmos and its companion book. Johnny Carson could milk a laugh by making fun of Sagan's idiosyncratic speech--"beeeee-llions and beeee-llions of stars"--but his scientific equals weren't laughing. Sagan was denied membership in the National Academy of Sciences.
"One is almost hated if he lets the secrets out of the Ivory Tower," Johanson says. "Omigosh, someone else knows, and they're not even a Ph.D."
In 1981, Johanson left Cleveland to establish the IHO so that he could devote his full-time attention to research. Little did he know that soon much of his schedule would be consumed by fund raising. He settled on Berkeley because several of his mentors and collaborators were there, including Tim White. Also in Berkeley was a geology professor named Garniss Curtis, who ran a geochronology lab at the university.
Geochronology is a science of affixing ages to prehistoric objects using laser, atomic, computer and other technologies. Curtis had participated in a much-celebrated case in which the Leakeys, in their search for early Homo, had overestimated the age of a layer of soil and the fossils found beneath it. When Curtis retired from the university in 1985, he brought his lab to IHO, first as a tenant renting space in the basement. Then, when it became apparent that the anthropologists upstairs and the geologists downstairs could lump together their grant monies, they merged under the IHO name. Billionaire philanthropist Gordon Getty was a benefactor of both groups and an IHO board member, and he saw the merger as a way to consolidate his gifts.
Bill Kimbel also came on board in 1985 to lend an administrative hand, because Johanson was splitting his time between the field and fund raising. And increasingly, he was becoming the Carl Sagan of anthropology with his books and his video projects.
Johanson's books are compelling. For example, his 1989 volume Lucy's Child, which he co-authored with James Shreeve, is the account of a 1987 dig in Olduvai Gorge, in which Johanson and White uncovered a Homo habilis skeleton. That Olduvai was sacred Leakey territory only stirred the pot more. Like a retreating army, Mary Leakey and her crew allegedly tore the stoves and tables and beds from the Olduvai camp buildings to keep Johanson from using them. All of which gave Johanson reason to rehash the Leakey debate in his book's narrative--along with every debate that ever came before it in the short history of paleoanthropology.
Though Johanson has been accused of hogging the limelight, one only has to read this book to see that he warmly gives credit to White and the Leakeys for their contributions to the science. And he clearly details the painstaking and backbreaking labor of a dig, sifting each shovelful and then getting down on hands and knees with dental picks and paintbrushes to extract the fossils.
And his descriptions of the furtive afarensis warily venturing down to the water hole, hoping to eat and not be eaten, are profound.
That vision was brought to life in a 1994, three-part Nova series in which Johanson went even further, to show, for example, how afarensis and Homo habilis might have competed with the predators of that era.
Throughout, Johanson handsomely and authoritatively talks into the camera. The result was critically well-received. White admits that he shows it in his own college courses.
It tore IHO apart.
It was always an uneasy marriage," Paul Renne says of the geochronologists' tenure with IHO, "a marriage of convenience, so to speak."
The breakup was as ugly as any divorce. From Renne's perspective, the IHO anthropologists were basking in the limelight while the geochronologists did all the work and brought in all the money.
"We were responsible for about 90 percent of the scholarly publications and 70 percent of the funding from the National Science Foundation and other funding organizations," he says. "By the end, it was clear to me and my colleagues that the geochronology center was really the dynamic entity here. We were the ones who were engendering lots of peer acclaim, and we were the ones who were bringing in a lot of visitors."
Indeed, the geochronologists were examining more than just fossils; they were affixing dates to changes in the Earth's magnetic fields, tracking the death of dinosaurs, calculating the age of the Earth itself.
And Garniss Curtis was better friends with Gordon Getty than Don Johanson was.
Getty had made a pledge to match the money the IHO raised, up to $1 million a year, and he sat on the board. But he allegedly thought that Curtis and the other geochronologists were being treated badly by Johanson. (Getty did not respond to inquiries from New Times.) Johanson was turning over his Nova salary to the institute so that Getty would match the amount. To Johanson's mind, this would turn his $50,000-a-year Nova salary into $100,000 for IHO, but the geologists suspected him of double dipping. And Renne thinks he kept book royalties and about $150,000 in speaker's fees, some of which, he says, should have been paid back to the institute.
Johanson was also spending too much time writing books and speaking and doing TV, the story went.
"Not only is that an irony," Bill Kimbel fumes, "it's a direct contradiction. It was his job. He was our communicator, the public face of IHO. I'm not one for labeling noble causes, but, for crying out loud, if scientists who are doing this work at taxpayers' expense, by and large, are not in the position to communicate the results of that research to the public, then something is wrong."
And finally, the geochronologists allege that Johanson's behavior was increasingly mercurial, including one celebrated blowup at the tony Chez Panisse restaurant in which Johanson threw a temper tantrum like a jealous lover because he spied Curtis lunching with representatives of a foundation he was courting himself.
On May 3, 1994, at an IHO board meeting, Getty called for Johanson's resignation as president of IHO, and if that was not acceptable, he wanted the geochronologists to be able to split amicably from the institute.
The board voted down Getty's proposal, and Getty consequently withdrew his financial pledge to the institute.
"It was a horrible time," says Johanson. "To be told you're not a scientist, all you're really interested in is making money and becoming famous. It's sort of like you're walking along and someone hits you in the side of the head."
Still, his reaction seemed vengeful. Before the day was over, he fired the geochronologists and locked them out of their lab.
"By going on with [Getty's] proposal, there could have been a completely amicable parting of the ways, and we could have done it in a logical manner," says Renne.
Instead, it was done in the courts.
The geochronologists had garnered 22 research grants which were earmarked for their projects and their projects alone, and they were in the middle of 18 research projects. The lab contained $800,000 worth of equipment that could not be used by anyone but them, some of it bought by Getty. As if that weren't enough, in less than a month, more than 1,000 geochronologists would be descending on Berkeley for a geochronology conference that was supposed to be sponsored by IHO. The lab doors, however, remained locked.
Renne and Curtis obtained a restraining order to get back into the lab. They called in the California attorney general to investigate the alleged double dipping, and they sued for breach of charitable trust.
IHO backed down. The divorce was final in 1995, the suit settled; IHO, the jilted husband, was forced to move out; the geochronologists kept the house and the property.
Johanson seems remorseful when talking of the split.
"I'm unhappy about a lot of things that have happened," he says. Then he reaches for a classic Johanson metaphor. "When you drop that priceless piece of Dresden China and it's broken, it's broken."
Also broken was his long-term collaboration with Tim White. They parted ways over politics in Ethiopia. A former IHO affiliate and White student named Berhane Asfaw had been removed from his post as director of the national museum in Ethiopia. White protested the removal. Johanson did not.
"What precipitated [the disagreement] had to do with our neutrality with regard to his student who was removed as head of the museum," says Johanson. "And we said it's not our job to interfere in a government's decision. He maintained his loyalty to this student."
The writer James Shreeve sums up that conflict by saying, "I think the style of Don and the substance of Tim finally came to a clash."
White, meanwhile, is pursuing his own research, concentrating on a 4.4-million-year-old fossil skeleton he has named Ardipithecus ramidus.
IHO has moved on with its research in Ethiopia, South Africa and Eritrea.
"IHO could, if it chose to, continue for another 15 years in Berkeley with our board of directors chasing the rent and utilities and salaries on a monthly basis, and doing it well," says Bill Kimbel.
Last year, Johanson says, they raised about $1 million, about what they raised in previous years--though in previous years it was doubled by Getty's matching donation. Now IHO was a much smaller entity--though its overhead costs of rent and utilities had not shrunk.
But then came the ASU offer.
Geoffrey Clark, an anthropology professor at ASU and a grad-school classmate of Johanson's from the University of Chicago, made the first inquiries.
"My motivation for doing it is that we have an extremely strong anthropology department at ASU," Clark says. "It's one of the leading departments in the country already, and it just seemed to me that if we could attract an entity like the IHO to ASU, it would make an already strong program that much stronger."
From IHO's perspective, there was no longer any reason to remain in Berkeley. White and the geochronologists were estranged; the rest of the professors--Desmond Clark, Glynn Isaac and others--who had drawn Johanson there in the early 1980s were dead or retired.
ASU president Lattie Coor referred to the move as a "win-win" decision, that Republican phrase that usually means someone's going to get screwed and someone else will make a killing.
But in fact the Republican response was more anachronistic than usual. Regent Kurt Davis, a Symington appointee to the Board of Regents and a former Symington staffer, raised the ridiculous caveat that the university research how much class time and money were being spent by the university to explore alternative theories of human origins. The other regents voted unanimously to pass Davis' suggestion.
Davis did not return calls to New Times. He was evasive in his interviews with the State Press, the ASU student newspaper, and would not explain what he meant by "alternative."
State Press editor Ray Stern fired off a sarcastic editorial asking what possible alternatives Davis could be referring to. Stern's guesses included the Book of Genesis, Native American creation myths and aliens. The administration pointed out that the university already had a religion department, so then the religion department wrote a letter to the school paper, bristling at the implication that it taught creationism as a viable theory of human origins. The anthropology department, which, incidentally, fully supported ASU's offer to IHO, wrote its own letter to point out that it already teaches creation myths from many cultures.
"The courses that these guys are going to teach have been taught by line faculty for over 20 years," says Professor Clark. "We do teach evolution in anthropology, and it is peculiar, to say the least, that the regents would attach that little rider on their approval."
Nonetheless, the university diligently followed Regent Davis' request--though nobody seems able to describe particulars, as if they want to get it over with without generating the usual embarrassment that would ensue if the national press found out a major university in backwoods Arizona were revisiting the Scopes trial.
"We hope our report will be something [Davis] will be happy to see," says Wendy Wilkins, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. "What we won't be doing is changing the science curriculum."
Johanson will teach one undergraduate course per semester at a salary of $109,000. Kimbel will be awarded a tenured associate professorship, Kaye Reed a tenure-track teaching position. The university will also pay a salary for the IHO's administrator. It will keep its nonprofit status and raise funds for field work, and then, when the anthropologists go into the field on expeditions, it will pay back the university for the time they spend away from teaching.
Johanson expects the total IHO budget to remain at about $1 million. ASU will be contributing $285,000 annually to that budget, mostly to cover salaries. By having offices in an ASU class building, IHO will be altogether relieved of rent and utility expenses. About half of the rest of the budget will be contributed by IHO's board members, the remainder from individuals, corporations and grants from federal sources, such as the National Science Foundation, and private funders such as the National Geographic Society. That money will pay the salaries of the IHO's other employees, Dr. Eric Meikle and geochronologist Dr. Robert Walter, for outreach and education programs, and for IHO expeditions. According to Bill Kimbel, a typical three-month expedition costs about $80,000 to stage; within the next year, IHO scientists will be returning to Eritrea, Ethiopia and South Africa.
On July 18, movers started rolling cabinets into the new ASU offices for the Institute of Human Origins. Lucy's cast stood silently, locked in a wooden crate in a corner, where she would wait until the moving was done and there were enough reporters assembled and enough video cameras whirring to merit opening the crate.
A TV news truck sat outside the institute.
I love Lucy, you love Lucy, everyone loves Lucy.
Johanson was optimistic about the new start.
"I have several projects that are literally sitting in the closet," he says. He might have said "skeletons" in the closet that need to be described and published in the academic fashion.
He waxes enthusiastic about getting back in the field.
"There is nothing like being out there," he says. "The sense of accomplishment and attachment. You go through these trials and tests. You wake up in the morning and it's cold and you have a cup of coffee by the fire, then you go out in the field.
"By 12 o'clock, it's 110 degrees; you've been trekking up and down the slopes and you haven't found anything. But you go back to camp and maybe jump in the river and sit under a hot tarp for lunch and start talking about the research. It's total immersion. You're no longer worrying about e-mails and the smog certificate for your car. All that matters is getting into the Land Rover and driving out to that spot.
"It starts to cool down in the evening. You eat dinner and sit out under the stars and maybe smoke a little cigar and talk about the day. Then you crash into your tent and listen to the animals moving around.
Don Johanson wants to get back to the field, back to the classroom, back to science.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Phoenix New Times' biggest stories.