Lucy (fossil)

Article

December 8, 2021

Lucy is a 3.2 million-year-old fossil of Australopithecus afarensis, discovered in 1974 by Professor Donald Johanson, an American anthropologist and curator of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, and student Tom Gray in Hadar, Ethiopia's Afar Desert when a team of archaeologists was excavating. Her name is Lucy because of the song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" by British band The Beatles, played on a tape recorder at camp, and for having defined her as a female. Earlier, in 1924, in South Africa, Australian researcher Raymond Dart had discovered a skull intermediate in size between that of humans and that of chimpanzees and named the new species "Australopithecus", which means "southern monkey".

Discovery

French geologist Maurice Taieb discovered the Hadar Formation, in Ethiopia, in 1972. To research it, he created the International Research Expedition Afar (IREA), inviting the American anthropologist Donald Johanson (founder and director of the Institute of Human Origins to join the team). Arizona State University), British archaeologist Mary Leakey, and French paleontologist Yves Coppens (now at the Collège de France) to co-direct the investigation. In the fall of 1973 the team excavated Hadar in search of fossils and artifacts related to the origin of human beings. In November, towards the end of the first field season, Johanson recognized a fossil of the upper end of the tibia, which had been cut slightly in the anterior part. The lower end of the femur was found close to it, and the joining of the parts at the angle of the knee joint clearly showed that this fossil (reference "AL 129-1") was an upright walking hominid. More than three million years old, the fossil was much older than any other then known. The location was about a mile and a half from where "Lucy" would later be found. The following year, the team returned for the second field season, and found hominid jaws. On the morning of November 24, 1974, near the Awash River, Johanson gave up on updating his field notes and joined graduate student Tom Gray of Texas driving from Land Rover to location 162 to search for bone fossils. Both spent a few hours exploring the dusty terrain, until Johanson had the intuition to take a short detour on the way back, to re-examine the bottom of a small ravine that had been checked on at least two previous occasions by other workers. At first glance, there was hardly any bone in sight, but as they turned to leave, a fragment of arm bone exposed on the slope caught Johanson's attention. Next to it was a fragment of the back of a small skull. They noticed a part of the femur about three feet away. Looking further, they found more bones scattered on the slope, including vertebrae, a part of the pelvis (indicating the fossil was female), ribs and pieces of jaw. They marked the spot and returned to camp, pleased to find so many pieces apparently from a single hominid. In the afternoon, all the elements of the expedition were in place, dividing it into squares and preparing for a collection that they estimated would take three weeks. That first night they celebrated at camp, awake all night, and sometime during that night, the fossil "AL 288-1" was dubbed Lucy, after the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" which had been played loudly and repeatedly on a tape recorder at camp. Over the next few weeks, several hundred bone fragments were found, without duplications, confirming the original speculation that they were from a single skeleton. As the team found, 40% of a hominid's skeleton were

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