Tech UPTechnologyLucy's discovery

Lucy's discovery


On November 30, 1974, paleoanthropologists Donald Johanson and Tom Gray found the remains of a hominid that was unlike anything else known to date. They belonged to the Australophithecus afarensis species, but that individual – individual – would go down as Lucy.

They were in the Afar desert, in Ethiopia, in an area that had been, thousands of years ago, a lake of which there was nothing left. That day, Gray planned to explore an area called Locality 162 and Johanson, on a sudden impulse, decided to accompany him.

After crawling for several hours under the scorching desert sun, the search paid off, and the researchers found a pile of skeletal remains that clearly belonged to a hominid: a pelvic fragment, jaw remains, a pair of vertebrae, a femur fragment… Johanson and Gray had undoubtedly found something worthwhile.

After three weeks of hard work by the entire team, hundreds of pieces were recovered, a total of about 40% of the skeleton of the individual in question. At that time there was much talk of the ‘missing link’, that supposed common ancestor from which our lineage would have separated from that of the chimpanzees, and the hominid discovered could well be, hence the euphoria of the researchers.

Lucy was special because, at that time, it was the oldest skeleton that had been excavated: although older fragments had been found, in this case we are talking about a very high percentage of bones belonging to the same individual.

Today we know that the first hominin was much earlier than Lucy, since our lineage would have separated between 5 and 7 million years ago, while Lucy’s skeleton has been dated at about 3.2 million years. Lucy belongs to the Australopithecus afarensis species, whose name is precisely due to the area in which it was found, the Afar desert. They were small individuals, measuring between 1.10 and 1.30 meters, with long arms, a small brain, and a hip morphology that indicates that they were already bipedal but also had the ability to climb, something they did habitually.


Why is her name Lucy?

Its scientific name is AL-288-1, but the world remembers it as Lucy and it is, surely, one of the most famous fossil remains on the planet. They say that on the night of its discovery, the team of Johanson and Gray organized a party to celebrate it, and that the Beatles song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds kept playing on the tape recorder.

Today Lucy is present in human evolution museums around the world, and the study of her bones continues to provide new information on the characteristics and way of life of A. afarensis .

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