Lucy Fossil - Australopithecus

Who Is Lucy?

Let's see what a popular high school biology textbook has to say:

"One early group of hominines, of the genus Australopithecus, lived about 4 million to about 1.5 million years ago. These hominines were bipedal apes, but their skeletons suggest that they probably spent at least some time in trees. ...

"The best-known of these species is Australopithecus afarensis, which lived roughly 4 million to 2.5 million years ago. The humanlike footprints in figure 26-17, about 3.6 million years old, were probably made by members of this species. A. afarensis fossils indicate the species had small brains, so the footprints show that hominines walked bipedally long before large brains evolved." (Miller & LeVine, Biology, 2010, page 768, emphasis as in the original)

Australopithicus afarensis, that's Lucy, is the most famous fossil ever found. We have a cast of the Lucy fossil in our museum, so you can get an up-close look. We also have a cast of a small section of the footprints, known as the Laetoli footprints, so you can see what they physically look like. (The physical museum is not yet open.)

We now need to ask a question we shouldn't have to ask, how much of this is fact and how much is fiction?

Lucy Fossil - Australopithecus

Is Lucy A Human Ancestor?

Lucy is not thought to be a human ancestor. Humans and A. afarenis are thought to have a common ancestor, but humans are not thought to have descended from A. afarensis. Human evolutionary history is now thought of like a bush, with many branches representing human related species. But there are no fossils showing direct evolutionary steps from apes to humans.

In their book "Bones of Contention" (2019 - page 115), Christopher Rupe and Dr. John Sanford describe some of the history of Lucy and how she became famous.

"According to his colleagues, Johanson" [the paleontologist who found the Lucy fossils] "loved the media spotlight and was a "publicity hound." He was able to win over the media and influence a sizable portion of the field as he promoted his own person interpretation of the Hadar-Laetoli findings." [The Lucy - Laetoli footprints] ... "As you will see, many leading paleo-experts have rejected Johnson's claims about afarensis as a sound species and the ancestor to us all."

Could it be that the famous Lucy fossil is more about marketing and promotional skills than it is about science?

Lucy Fossil - Australopithecus

The Evidence: Humans and A. Afarensis (Lucy) Coexisted

If you base your conclusions on what is seen on TV and taught in schools, it appears as though paleontologists dig in the dirt in East Africa, and sometimes find an ancient human relative such as Lucy. But, that's not what happens. The bones are more often found in a jumble of bones from various animals, plus australopith bones and homo (human) bones. Some of the bones that are combined into a skeleton are found hundreds of feet or even a mile apart. The paleontologist then has take all hte bones and figure out which bones go with which animal. Based on evolutionary assumptions that humans did not exist 3 to 4 million years ago, it is assumed that the human bones must actually be australopith bones... because obviously humans had not yet evolved. The resulting australopith skeleton is actually part ape and part human.

In What Condition Was Lucy Found?

Christopher Rupe and Dr. John Sanford write: "The disconnect bones attributed to Lucy were scattered and loose, fragmentary bones that were eroding out of the hillside. ... Additional recovered bones that were presumed to belong to the Lucy skeleton were found only after sifting mass amounts" [20 tons] "of sediment covering an area of roughly 50 square meters." [~540 sq ft] - "Bones of Contention" (2019 - page 125)

Human & Other Australopith Bones Found Together

"At the core of this ongoing debate is the widely-recognized observation that some of the postcranial bones in the Afarensis hypodigm" [type] "look distinctly like apes, whereas other postcranial bones look distinctly like modern humans." - "Bones of Contention" (2019 - page 146)

"The Leaky team and the Johanson team were consistently finding australopith bones in the same strata as human bones, along with human tools, human shelters, and human footprints. These findings were obvious to all, but were disturbing because the pattern did not reveal an ape-to-man progression. ... Johanson resolved this dilemma by asserting that all bones older than 3 million years must always be designated australopith, even when they are indistinguishable from human bones, and even if they were corroborated by human footprints." "Bones of Contention" (2019 - page 152)

It appears the actual observable evidence does not carry any weight when it contradicts evolutionary beliefs. Let's look at the footprints in more detail.

Next: Laetoli Footprints   Go Deeper: Could Lucy Sin?