Archaeology news: Discovery of Lucy Australopithecus afarensis and how it changed world | History | News

Archaeology news: Discovery of Lucy Australopithecus afarensis and how it changed world | History | News

Anthropologists Donald Johanson and Tom Gray were walking back through a ravine to their Land Rover on the Hadar site in the Awash Valley in Ethiopia, when Mr Johanson spotted a forearm bone protruding from the ground. After a fortnight of excavating almost 50 years ago, the earliest known hominid was discovered. 


After the discovery of the arm on November 24, 1974, Mr Johanson and Mr Gray found pieces of a skull bone, femur, ribs, pelvis, and jaw. 

So pleased were they with their discovery, the pair spent the night at the campsite celebrating by drinking and dancing to the Beatles’ famous 1967 track, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds – and the name of their discovery was born. Mr Johanson told the BBC: “All of a sudden, she became a person.” 

After two weeks, the team had discovered hundreds of fossilised bones which made up 40 percent of a female hominid, a species that came after the human and African ape species split. 

Lucy, who lived in Ethiopia 3.2 million years ago, is of the Australopithecus afarensis. They are thought of as an ancestor to modern humans with one important similarity being that they walked upright. 


Thanks to a careful examination of Lucy’s knee structure and spine, they were able to establish that she walked on two legs. 

It is also thought that Lucy was a fully grown adult as her third molars, or wisdom teeth, had erupted, as in emerged from the gum, and were slightly worn. 

The discovery of 40 percent of her bones meant the team was able to establish that Lucy was short – standing at just three and a half feet tall – and weighed approximately 60 pounds, just over four stone. 

It is a matter of debate amongst scientists whether the Australopithecus afarensis had the ability to climb trees and how similar anatomically they are to either humans or apes. Many experts believe she was closer to apes than humans. 

READ MORE: Caver recalls ‘speechless’ moment uncovering new species of human


Between 2007 and 2013, her skeleton and other artifacts were taken on a tour of America after four years of negotiations by the Houston Museum of Natural Science, based in Northern Texas. 

There was much debate at the time over whether the tour would damage the fossils which were showcased as part of the exhibition named “Lucy’s Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia”.  

Now, only a plastic replica of what remains of her skeleton can be seen by the public. Lucy’s skeleton is near where she was found in Ethiopia, hidden from the public, lying in a safe in the National Museum of Ethiopia as part of the Dinkinesh collection, which translates to “you are marvelous” in Amharic. 

Thanks to the discovery that Lucy could walk long before brain size increased and the first stone tools were made, she became famous worldwide. Mr Johanson later released a book in 1987 named “Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind”. 

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