Lucy (Australopithecus)

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Catalog number AL 288-1
Common name Lucy
Species Australopithecus afarensis
Age 3.2 million years[1]
Place discovered Afar Depression, Ethiopia
Date discovered November 24, 1974
Discovered by Johanson and Gray[2]

Lucy (also given a second (Amharic) name: dinqineš, or “Dinkenesh,” meaning “You are beautiful” or "you are wonderful"[3]) is the common name of AL 288-1, the 40% complete skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis specimen discovered in 1974 at Hadar in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia's Afar Depression. Lucy is estimated to have lived 3.2 million years ago[1]. The discovery of this hominin was significant as the skeleton shows evidence of small skull capacity akin to that of apes and of bipedal upright walk akin to that of humans, providing further evidence that bipedalism preceded increase in brain size in human evolution.[4][5]


[edit] Discovery

Side view of Lucy replica

French geologist Maurice Taieb discovered the Hadar Formation in 1972. He then formed the International Afar Research Expedition (IARE), inviting Donald Johanson, an American anthropologist now head of the Institute of Human Origins of Arizona State University, and Yves Coppens, a French born paleontologist now based at the Collège de France to co-direct the research. An expedition was formed with four American and seven French participants, and in the autumn of 1973 the team surveyed Hadar, Ethiopia for fossils and artifacts related to the origin of humans.[6]

In November 1973, near the end of the first field season, Johanson noticed a fossil of the upper end of a shinbone, which had been sliced slightly on the front. The lower end of a thighbone was found near to it, and when he fitted them together the angle of the knee joint clearly showed that this fossil, reference AL 129-1, was an upright walking hominid. Over three million years old, the fossil was much older than any others known at the time. The site lay about two and a half kilometres from the site at which they subsequently found "Lucy".[7][8]

The team returned for the second field season in the following year and found hominid jaws. Then, on the morning of November 24, 1974,[3] near the Awash River, Johanson abandoned a plan to update his field notes and joined graduate student, Tom Gray from Texas State, in taking their Land Rover to Locality 162 to search for bone fossils.[9]

Both Johanson and Gray spent a couple of hours on the increasingly hot arid plains, surveying the dusty terrain, then Johanson decided on a hunch to make a small detour on their way back to the Land Rover to look at the bottom of a small gulley that had been checked at least twice before by other workers. At first sight there was virtually no bone in the gulley, but as they turned to leave, a fossil caught Johanson's eye; an arm bone fragment lying on the slope. Near it lay a fragment from the back of a small skull. As they looked further, they found more and more bones, including part of a thighbone, vertebrae, part of a pelvis indicating that the fossil was female, ribs, and pieces of jaw. They marked the spot and returned to camp, excited at finding so many pieces apparently from one individual hominid.[2][10]

Cast of Lucy in Mexico

In the afternoon, everyone on the expedition was at the gully, sectioning off the site and preparing for careful collection which eventually took three weeks. That first evening they celebrated at the camp, staying up all night, and at some stage during the evening the fossil AL 288-1 was nicknamed Lucy, after the Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", which was being played loudly and repeatedly on a tape recorder in the camp.[11]

Over the three weeks, several hundred pieces or fragments of bone were found, with no duplication, confirming their original speculation that they were from the one skeleton. As the team analyzed the fossil further, they calculated that an amazing 40% of a hominin skeleton had been recovered, an astounding accomplishment in the world of anthropology. Usually, only fossil fragments are discovered; rarely are skulls or ribs found intact. Johanson considered it was female based on the one complete pelvic bone and sacrum indicating the width of the pelvic opening.[12] Lucy was only 1.1 m (3 feet 8 inches) tall, weighed 29 kilograms (65 lb) and looked somewhat like a Common Chimpanzee, but although the creature had a small brain, the pelvis and leg bones were almost identical in function with those of modern humans, showing with certainty that these hominids had walked erect.[13]

Johanson brought the skeleton back to Cleveland, under an agreement with the government of Ethiopia, and returned it according to agreement some 9 years later. Lucy as a fossil hominin significantly captured public notice, becoming almost a household name at the time.

Further discoveries of afarensis specimens occurred during the 1970s giving anthropologists a much better appreciation of the range of variability and sexual dimorphism of the species.

[edit] Notable characteristics

The body height of Lucy is estimated as about 3 feet 6 inches (1.07 meters).[14]

[edit] Postcranial

Lucy skeleton reconstruction. Cleveland Natural History Museum

One of the most striking characteristics possessed by Lucy was a valgus knee, which indicated that she normally moved by walking upright. Her femoral head was small and her femoral neck was short, both primitive characteristics. Her greater trochanter, however, was clearly derived, being short and human like rather than taller than the femoral head. The length ratio of her humerus to femur was 84.6% compared to 71.8% for modern humans and 97.8% for common chimpanzees, indicating that either the arms of A. afarensis were beginning to shorten, the legs were beginning to lengthen, or that both were occurring simultaneously. Lucy also possessed a lumbar curve, another indicator of habitual bipedalism.

[edit] Pelvic girdle

Johanson was able to recover Lucy's left innominate bone and sacrum. Though the sacrum was remarkably well preserved, the innominate was distorted, leading to two different reconstructions. The first reconstruction had little iliac flare and virtually no anterior wrap, creating an ilium that greatly resembled that of an ape. However, this reconstruction proved to be faulty, as the superior pubic rami would not have been able to connect if the right ilium was identical to the left. A later reconstruction by Tim White showed a broad iliac flare and a definite anterior wrap, indicating that Lucy had an unusually broad inner acetabular distance and unusually long superior pubic rami. Her pubic arch was over 90 degrees, similar to modern human females. Her acetabulum, however, was small and primitive.

[edit] Cranial specimens

The cranial evidence recovered from Lucy are far less derived than her postcranium. Her neurocranium is small and primitive, while she possesses more spatulate canines than apes. The cranial capacity was about 375 to 500 cc.

[edit] Exhibitions

Lucy is preserved at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A plaster replica is displayed instead of the original skeleton. A cast of the original skeleton in its reconstructed form remains on display at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History[15]. A diorama of Australopithecus afarensis and other human predecessors showing each species in its habitat and demonstrating the behaviors and capabilities that scientists believe it had is displayed in the Hall of Human Biology and Evolution at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City.

[edit] US tour

A six-year exhibition tour of the United States, titled Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia features the Lucy fossil as well as over 100 artifacts from ancient times to the present, is currently underway. The tour was approved by the Ethiopian government and organized in collaboration with the Houston Museum of Natural Science, where it had been on display from August 31, 2007 until September 1, 2008.[16] An undisclosed proportion of the proceeds from the tour is to go toward modernizing Ethiopia's museums.[17] The U.S. Department of State also approved the tour. There was controversy in advance of the tour over concerns about the fragility of the specimens, with various experts including paleoanthropologist Owen Lovejoy and anthropologist and conservationist Richard Leakey publicly stating their opposition. The Smithsonian Institution and Cleveland Museum of Natural History were among museums declining to host the exhibits.[18] The fossil's discoverer Don Johanson stated that although he was somewhat uneasy about the possibility of damage, he did not oppose exhibiting Lucy as it will help to raise awareness of human-origins studies. The museum is making arrangements for the exhibits to be shown at as many as ten other museums. The exhibit was shown at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle, Washington where it was displayed from October 4, 2008 - March 8, 2009.[17] In September 2008, between the exhibits in Houston and Seattle, the fossils were taken to the University of Texas at Austin for 10 days to complete the first ever high resolution CT scan of the fossil.[19]

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b "Mother of man - 3.2 million years ago". BBC Home. Retrieved on 2008-10-10. 
  2. ^ a b "Instutute of Human Origins". Retrieved on 2007-08-30. 
  3. ^ a b "Lucy's legacy: Discovering our most famous ancestor". The Houston Museum of Natural History.. Retrieved on 2007-09-10. 
  4. ^ Hadar. (2008). In Encyclopædia Britannica.
  5. ^ Stephen Tomkins (1998). The Origins of Humankind. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521466768. 
  6. ^ Johanson 1981, p. 154-158
  7. ^ Letter from Donald Johanson, August 8, 1989 Lucy's Knee Joint
  8. ^ Johanson 1981, p. 159-163
  9. ^ Johanson 1981, p. 18 (Note that the book shows the discovery date as November 30, 1974)
  10. ^ Johanson 1981, p. 20-21
  11. ^ Johanson 1981, p. 22
  12. ^ Johanson 1981, p. 22
  13. ^ Johanson 1981, p. 20-22, 184-185
  14. ^ Jungers, W.L. (1988). "Lucy's length: Stature reconstruction in Australopithecus afarensis (A.L.288-1) with implications for other small-bodied hominids". American Journal of Physical Anthropology 76 (2): 227 - 231. PMID 3137822. 
  15. ^ "Permanent Exhibits." 3 January, 2007.
  16. ^ "Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia". Houston Museum of Natural Science. 2008. Retrieved on 2008-07-15. 
  17. ^ a b Jim Kennett (August 31, 2007). " Canada". Lucy's Ancient Bones Visit Houston Museum as Scientists Fret. Retrieved on 2007-09-11. 
  18. ^ Stefan Lovgren (November 1, 2006). ""Lucy" Fossil Tour Sparks Controversy Among U.S. Museums". National Geographic News. Retrieved on 2007-09-11. 
  19. ^ University of Texas at Austin Office of Public Affairs (February 6, 2009). "Researchers Complete First CT Scan of Ancient Human Ancestor Lucy". University of Texas at Austin. Retrieved on 2009-02-06. 

[edit] Further reading

[edit] External links

  • Thorpe S.K.S.; Holder R.L., and Crompton R.H. (24 May 2007). "PREMOG - Supplementry Info". Origin of Human Bipedalism As an Adaptation for Locomotion on Flexible Branches. Primate Evolution & Morphology Group (PREMOG), the Department of Human Anatomy and Cell Biology, the School of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Liverpool. Retrieved on 2007-11-01. "Based on computer simulations of the mechanics of motion in fossil human ancestors such as the famous 'Lucy' skeleton, our research group has long argued that early human ancestors would have walked upright, rather than semi-crouched, as the old 'up from the apes' view has suggested But we have not been able to say where such upright walking originated. Now, research on the orang utan, suggests that upright walking may have been a basic element of the lifestyle of the earliest ancestors of modern apes, including humans, which would have been tree-dwelling specialists on ripe fruit, living among the fine branches of tropical forest trees." 
  • University of Texas's website Enables visitors to view bones and bone casts, and learn more about human origins and evolution. Activities and lessons are provided to encourage additional study.
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