On This Day: “Lucy” fossils discovered – HISTORY

On November 24, 1974, the fossils of an early human ancestor are discovered in northeastern Ethiopia. Soon nicknamed “Lucy,” the remains showed that human species were walking upright over three millions years ago. 

The groundbreaking discovery was made by anthropology professor Donald Johanson and his research assistant Tom Gray at the Hadar paleontological site in northeastern Ethiopia. Johanson was already optimistic about the chances of finding bones from the hominin group—the group consisting of modern humans, extinct human species and their immediate ancestors—after discovering a knee joint the previous year at Hadar. While out mapping and surveying for fossils among the site’s 3.2 million year old sediments, Johanson and Gray discovered a hominin forearm bone—a discovery which would lead to the excavation of several hundred fragments of bone over two weeks, making up 40 percent of a single hominin skeleton. This freshly uncovered fossil earned the name Lucy later that night, inspired by the Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” which Johanson’s team played on repeat as they drank, danced and sang in celebration of their finding.

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