Who is Lucy? – Flavible

Tim Evanson - Australopithecus afarensis adult male - head model - Smithsonian Museum of Natural History - 2012-05-17

Tim Evanson – Australopithecus afarensis adult male – head model – Smithsonian Museum of Natural History – 2012-05-17

Back in 1974, whilst Donald Johanson and Tom Gray were travelling together at the site of Hadar in Etiopia, Johnson discovered a hominid proximal ulha (forearm bone). Shortly thereafter, he discovered an occipital (skull) bone, a femur, some ribs, a pelvis and a lower jaw. Two weeks later, the site was excavated, and found to have several hundred fragments of bone, representing 40 percent of a hominid skeleton. Little did Johnson and Gray know, their finding would change our understanding of human evolution.

Lucy - Homind

Lucy – Homind

It wasn’t until four years later that Lucy was officially described as belonging to a species called Australopithecus afarensis. At approximately 3.18 million years old, she is one of the earliest of humanities recognisable ancestors. Now, new evidence has suggested that she died falling from a great height- which scientists have determined to most likely be from a tree. This new finding has supported the view that Australopithecus afarensis spent at least some portion of their lives within trees.

Ape in trees - Wikicommons

Ape in trees – Wikicommons

Her causes of death were published in the journal Nature, after a study by a team of US scientists. Lucy’s skeleton was scanned using a high energy, high resolution computered tomography (CT) facility, an advanced version of the X-ray equipment used in modern medical settings. Up until now technology could not allow scientists to get such a precise picture of what happened. The CT used can scan through materials as solid as rock and reveals structures as thin as human hair.

Ten days of scanning, revealed a series of compressive fractures, likely caused by one bone being jammed into the other, signifying extreme trauma. John Kappelman, University of Texas (anthropology and geological sciences professor; leader of the study) stated, the injuries were consistent with those ‘caused by a fall from considerable height when the conscious victim stretched out an arm in an attempt to break the fall.
The scan revealed multiple broken bones with no signs of healing, suggesting they occurred at time of death. The study speculates that 3ft 6in tall Lucy fell form at least 40 feet and hit the ground at 35 mph. Kappelman believes that she landed on her feet, before twisting and falling, and then attempted to break her fall. The impact of the fall created fractures in her ankles, knees, hip and shoulder. It is believed that her internal organs were probably punctured by this ‘hydraulic ram effect’.
Some scientists, however, have discredited the theory attributing the cracks in her skeleton down to the fossilisation process and natural forces, such as erosion.
Lucy shook our ideas of understanding the process of evolution, bridging the gap between humans and apes. She had mobile ankles and shoulders, with slightly curved finger and toes, which provided more overhead range of movement.
Her species survived for more than 900,000 years, beating modern humans four times over. She showed that it had been wrongly perceived that we become intelligent before we stood up. This implied that the most important thing to advancing us towards are current state, may not have been brain power, but actually walking.

Taung Child - Wikicommons

Taung Child – Wikicommons

Lucy, however, was not the first species of her kind to be found. In 1924, a skull of a young child was found in Taug, South Africa. The fossils become known as the Taung Child, who lived approximately 2.8 million years ago. Raymond Dart determined that it belonged to a new species Australopithecus africanus. The Taung Child was the first inclination that humans had originated from Africa.
Nevertheless, Lucy has come to imprint herself in history as one of the most important fossils ever found.

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