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Lucy, The Missing Link of Human Evolution

There is a difference between apes and Homo sapiens. Apes walked with four limbs, that is, they are tetrapod whereas human beings walk with two legs, which is known as bipedal.

There lies a transition stage between the two and this gap is filled by the species that resembled Lucy.

Thus, Lucy, the Australopithecus is the forefather of the genus Homo and the successor of the Apes that walked in four limbs.

Lucy is a collection of 47 bones that forms 40% of the total skeleton of the species Australopithecus afarensis, founded by paleoanthropologists Donald Johanson and Tom Gray in the year 1974 near a village called Hadar in Ethiopia.

The fossil remains of the species is dated back to 3.2 million years. 

It was named Lucy because of the Beatle’s song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ that was played many times in the camp at the excavation site in Ethiopia after the first day’s work. 

Two years before this discovery, in 1972 the duo found 2.8 million year old stone tools used for hunting in the same region of Ethiopia. But this was not the first time scientists discover about Australopithecus afarensis.

The skull of the species was found in the year 1924 and on examination showed the characteristics of both apes and human beings and studies on its spinal cord revealed that the species walked with two legs upright.

There have been a number of discoveries about the Australopithecus species thereafter until November 24, 1974, the most significant of them all, Lucy was found. Lucy was found to be a 20-year-old female having a brain size one-third of modern man. 

Till then scientists believed that bipedalism in human beings developed with increased brain size, which was challenged by this discovery. So far our understanding is that our ability to walk on two legs increased with a more developed brain.

But, Lucy stood erect, even though she had a smaller, lesser developed brain. This may lead to a conclusion that bipedalism is a very crucial factor in making us what we are today, not just our brain’s capability.

Lucy had lived in a period well before the hominids split into two branches, the one that led to modern human beings and the other that became extinct. 

Johanson says that as Lucy’s characteristics are found to be very primitive, and hence our understanding of the period in which modern man split from his ancestor apes needs to be reconsidered.

But his view is challenged by others. Richard Leakey, paleoanthropologist, suggests that Lucy was completely a separate species.  It is a very popular belief that we human beings, a part of Homo genus along with other extinct species including Neanderthals have a common ancestor from Australopithecus genus.

But we are not sure which species of Australopithecus was our common ancestor. It is believed that human beings split from their ancestral chimps nearly 13 million years ago, during which there were many life forms inhabited the earth breeding with another.

Thus, it is not so clear to identify the exact common ancestor.

But definitely the discovery of Lucy has brought us closer in the understanding of our evolutionary process.

She is kept safe in the National Museum of Ethiopia, Addis Abba, whereas what you get to see there in the museum is a plaster replica of Lucy instead of her original skeletal remains. 

During her days after discovery, she became very popular that she was on a tour for five years in the United States, before returning home in 2013. She became a popular household name. 

The Afar region where she was found in Ethiopia has been home to a large number of hominid fossil discoveries and was recommended by scientist Derek Rossi to be announced as TIME’s most influential places in history.

On November 24, 2015, Google celebrated her 41st year after discovery with a doodle.

Featured Image Source: National Geographic

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