Lucy’s fossil: 7 things you didn’t know about it

John Henrique Oct 20, 2020

Lucy’s fossil is the most popular fossil ever found and belongs to the human species called Australopithecus afarensis.

The remains were discovered in Ethiopia more than 40 years ago, and became famous for their state of preservation, with about 40% of the bones preserved.

Lucy lived in Africa more than 3.1 million years ago and her discovery was a milestone for studies on human evolution.

1. Lucy was very light and small

Lucy was just over a meter (3 ft 7 in) tall and weighed about 29 kilograms (63 pounds). Currently, her skeleton is preserved at the National Museum of Ethiopia.

2. She was named after a Beatles song

The name Lucy was inspired by the famous Beatles song “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds”.

On the day they found the skeleton, paleontologist Donald Johanson’s team gathered to celebrate. When they heard this song, they had no doubts about the name they should give the fossil.

3. Lucy was found by chance

Her bones were discovered in 1974 in the Afar region, Ethiopia, by American paleontologist Donald Johanson and his team. He was working in Ethiopia when he decided to return from an expedition using an alternative route.

During the return, he saw a bone fragment and identified it as a hominid bone. Searching the site more carefully, he found parts of the femur and pelvis, and after two weeks of hard work and hours of excavation, all bone fragments were found, constituting approximately 40% of a hominid skeleton.

The term hominid refers to members of the family Hominidae, which includes all primate species, Australopithecus and Homo.

4. Lucy is one of the most complete fossils ever found

When Lucy was found, she was the oldest and most complete skeleton ever found. More than 3 million years old and with approximately 40% of the skeleton preserved, the discovery encouraged scientists for a more detailed study of human ancestors.

Lucy is a fossil in excellent condition, compared to the fragments that are usually found, and this allowed scientists to better understand human ancestors and study characteristics such as size, shape, and how they moved.

5. Lucy could climb trees

Her arm bones are long and the marks left by the muscles that attach to the humerus (arm bone) are evidence of a powerful chest and strong arms, necessary for climbing trees.

Her short, wide pelvis shows the ability to keep the body upright, and the angle of the bones in her thigh, holding the weight on her knees, demonstrate the ability to walk efficiently on two legs.

Lucy’s compact feet indicate the ability to support her entire body weight while walking. However, her long, curved foot bones show monkey-like characteristics, suited to climbing trees.

6. She is not our direct ancestor

For a long time, she was considered our direct ancestor. However, she is currently seen as a distant cousin, as new discoveries have been made about the phases of man’s evolution and new fossils have been found.

7. Her death was swift

A 2016 study, published in the journal Nature, suggests that Lucy died after falling from a tree. An analysis of her skeleton revealed that she had injuries to her right arm and ankle, left shoulder, and knee.

These injuries are compatible with injuries that happen when we fall from a high place, such as a tree. Scientists believe that Lucy died quickly, without much suffering.

Recommended books

References

Desilva, J. M. Throckmorton, Z. J. 2010. Rosenberg, Karen. Lucy’s Flat Feet: The Relationship between the Ankle and Rearfoot Arching in Early Hominins. PLOS ONE.

Johanson, D. C. Edey, M. 1981. Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind. Simon & Schuster.

Kappelman, J. Ketcham, R. A. Pearce, S. Todd, L. Akins, W. Colbert, M. W. Feseha, M. Maisano, J. A. Witzel, A. Perimortem fractures in Lucy suggest mortality from fall out of tall tree. Nature.

Written by John Henrique

John has a degree in IT and is the founder of Hyperaxion. He is a science enthusiast and can usually be found reading a book, stargazing, or playing video games.

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