Every time a recent discovery leads to name a new species of a human ancestor , controversy arises, no central authority determines this, so paleoarchaeologists try to reach a consensus, and there are always heated arguments.
Lucy was not going to be an exception.
She was found by Donald Johanson and Tim White the 24th of November 1974, at the site of Hadar in Ethiopia. After a long morning mapping and surveying for fossils, they decided to head back to the camp by car and Johanson suggested to take an alternative route. They were driving only for a few km when they spotted, lying on the sandy floor, an occipital, after that a femur, a pelvis and a lower jaw.
You need to have well trained eyes in order to see a tiny piece of bone half buried in the dust but you also need to be lucky, many discoveries have been made by chance.
That night they had plenty of reasons to celebrate, and they did so having a few drinks and listening to music, one of the songs played was “Lucy in the sky with diamonds” by The Beatles, hence her name, Lucy.
They were so lucky!! With an occipital you can calculate the cranial capacity, with the jaw, the kind of tooth she had and with the pelvis and femur, if she was bipedal, 3 very important things to determine if she could be a human ancestor. She lived around 3.500.000 years ago.
In the next couple of weeks they would recover several hundred fragments of bone, representing 40 percent of a single hominid skeleton.
The skeleton of Lucy © Alain Nogues/Sygma/CORBIS
Johanson and White decided to claim the discovery of a new species, the Australopithecus Afarensis, and they also declared something more controversial, that Lucy was one of our ancestors, both knew intense discussions will follow that claim.
And the arguments came mainly from the same source, Richard Leaky.
He is the son of Louis and Mary Leaky, two very well known archaologists, who had been working in Africa since the mid 30´s, Louis was born in Tanzania, of English origins and Mary was from London. They have pioneered the investigation in Africa in search for our greatgreat…..grandparents, before most scientists stated that humans were originated in Europe and Asia, due mostly to a racist point of view.
And Richard Leaky had also discovered the Turkana boy in the 70s, the nearly complete skeleton of a Homo erectus boy, he was well respected.
The most important paleoarcheologists of the time agreed with Johanson and White eventually, and Lucy was considered one of our greatgreat…….grandmothers, although Johanson and Leaky didn´t speak to each other for over 30 years.
On May the 5th 2011 they buried the hatched and appeared in a symposium together. (Coincidentally the same day I was born, unluckily I was not born on that year)
But this happy story does not finish here, the recent discovery of the Homo Naledi, in 2013, may put into question Lucy´s relationship with us, the arguments never end.
The Homo Naledi looks very old, he has human and ape characteristics as Lucy does, but what makes him very very interesting is where he was found, deep down in a cave called Rising Star (South Africa) among 14 individuals of the same species, no other animal remains, no predator marks, it seems they were deposited there by their peers for a purpose, maybe ceremonial, if that is the case, they were truly humans.
Which brings me to the tittle of this post, Halloween and Lucy the australopithecus, would it be possible that Lucy have celebrated Halloween, definitely not, she is an australopithecus, but maybe Homo Naledi did, who knows!!
I am going to invite Lucy to our Halloween party, I bet she and Albert will have a good time!! until the paleontologists find the way to date the Homo Naledi precisely, she is still part of our family tree.
National Geographic. October 2015. Paperback