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Baboon bone found in famous Lucy skeleton

Baboon bone found in famous Lucy skeleton

New Scientist

Image:  Le Grand Portage

Lucy, arguably the world’s most famous early human fossil, is not quite all she seems. A careful look at the ancient hominin’s skeleton suggests one bone may actually belong to a baboon.

In November 1974, palaeoanthropologists Donald Johanson and Tom Gray made the discovery of a lifetime near the village of Hadar in Ethiopia: dozens of fossil fragments belonging to a single hominin skeleton dating back 3.2 million years.

Once the fragments had been pieced together, the skeleton was declared to be of the species Australopithecus afarensis. But the skeleton became known as Lucy, inspired by a Beatles song that blasted out of a cassette player as the researchers celebrated their discovery that evening.

Forty years later, thanks to its age and completeness, Lucy remains an important specimen. It shows, for instance, that our distant ancestors began to walk upright on two legs long before they developed big brains.

It’s no surprise, then, that replicas of the skeleton are on display at museums across the world. But when Gary Sawyer and Mike Smith at the American Museum of Natural History in New York recently began work on a new reconstruction of Lucy’s skeleton, with help from Scott Williams at New York University, they noticed something odd. Read more on…