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Lucy (also given a second (Amharic) name: dinqineš, or “Dinkenesh,” meaning “You are beautiful” or "you are wonderful") is the common name of AL 288-1, the nearly 40% complete skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis specimen discovered in 1974 at Hadar in the Awash Valley of Ethiopiamarker's Afar Depressionmarker. Lucy is estimated to have lived 3.2 million years ago. The discovery of this hominid 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. In 1994, a new hominid, Ardi was found, pushing back the earliest known hominid date to 4.4 million years ago. Details of this discovery were finally published in October 2009.


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 Americanmarker anthropologist, and Founding Director of the Institute of Human Origins of Arizona State Universitymarker, Mary Leakey, a British archaeologist, and Yves Coppens, a French born paleontologist now based at the Collège de Francemarker 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.

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".

The team returned for the second field season in the following year and found hominid jaws. Then, on the morning of November 24, 1974, near the Awash Rivermarker, 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.

Both Donald Johanson and Tom 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 gully that had been checked at least twice before by other workers. At first sight there was virtually no bone in the gully, 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. They noticed part of a femur (thighbone) a few feet (around 1m) away. As they looked further, they found more and more bones on the slope, including 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.
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.

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. 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.Under an agreement with the government of Ethiopia, Johanson brought the skeleton back to Clevelandmarker where it was reconstructed by Owen Lovejoy. It was returned 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.

Notable characteristics

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


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.

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.

Cranial specimens

The cranial evidence recovered from Lucy is 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.


Lucy is preserved at the National Museum of Ethiopia in Addis Ababamarker, 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. 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 Evolutionmarker at the American Museum of Natural Historymarker in New York Citymarker. A cast of Lucy's skeleton as well as a reconstruction of Lucy is on display at The Field Museum in Chicago in their Evolving Planet exhibition.

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 Sciencemarker, where it had been on display from August 31, 2007 until September 1, 2008, along with an original Digital Dome Theater (Planetarium) feature film about the origins of lucy called Lucy’s Cradle, the Birth of Wonder, featuring music by Shai Fishman, recorded and produced at Fish-i Studios - An undisclosed proportion of the proceeds from the tour is to go toward modernizing Ethiopia's museums. The U.S.marker Department of Statemarker 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 Institutionmarker and Cleveland Museum of Natural History were among museums declining to host the exhibits. 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 Centermarker in Seattle, Washingtonmarker where it was displayed from October 4, 2008 - March 8, 2009. In September 2008, between the exhibits in Houston and Seattle, the fossils were taken to the University of Texas at Austinmarker for 10 days to complete the first ever high resolution CT scan of the fossil.

Lucy has been open at Discovery Times Square Expositionmarker, a new facility located in New York Citymarker since June 24, 2009. The Australopithecus afarensis was on display until October 25, 2009. In New York, the exhibition will include Ida (Plate B), the other half of the recently announced Darwinius masilae fossil.

See also


  1. Hadar. (2008). In Encyclopædia Britannica.
  3. Letter from Donald Johanson, August 8, 1989 Lucy's Knee Joint
  4. (Note that the book shows the discovery date as November 30, 1974)
  5. "Permanent Exhibits." 3 January, 2007.

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