24 November 1974

Donald Johanson and Tom Gray discover the 40% complete Australopithecus afarensis skeleton, nicknamed “Lucy” (after The Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”), in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia’s Afar Depression.

The Australopithecus afarensis skeleton nicknamed “Lucy” is one of the most famous and significant fossil finds in the field of paleoanthropology. Lucy was discovered in 1974 by paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson and his team in the Afar region of Ethiopia, at a site called Hadar. The fossil is estimated to be about 3.2 million years old, dating back to the Pliocene epoch.

Here are some key features and information about the Lucy specimen:

Species Identification: Lucy belongs to the species Australopithecus afarensis, which is an extinct hominin species that is considered to be a close relative to the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees.

Age and Size: Lucy was an adult female, but her exact age at the time of death is not known. She stood about 3.5 feet (1.1 meters) tall and had a small brain, similar in size to that of a modern chimpanzee.

Bipedalism: One of the most important aspects of Lucy’s discovery is that her anatomy provided strong evidence for bipedalism, or walking on two legs. The structure of her knee and pelvis, in particular, suggested adaptations for upright walking, a key characteristic that distinguishes hominins from other primates.

Limbs and Hands: Lucy’s upper limbs had features indicative of both tree-climbing and terrestrial adaptation. Her curved fingers and long arms suggest some retention of climbing abilities, while her lower limbs, particularly the knee and pelvis, were adapted for bipedal locomotion.

Significance: Lucy’s discovery provided crucial insights into the early stages of human evolution. The evidence of bipedalism in a creature with an ape-sized brain challenged previous assumptions that a large brain was a prerequisite for walking upright. Lucy’s skeleton also played a significant role in shaping our understanding of the evolutionary transition from arboreal to terrestrial life in hominins.

The name “Lucy” was inspired by the Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which was playing at the excavation camp when the discovery was made. The find has since become an iconic symbol in the study of human evolution, and Lucy’s remains continue to contribute to our understanding of the evolutionary history of early hominins.