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Lucy (Hominid at AL 288, Ethiopia)

Type Fossil for Australopithecus afarensis

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Sculptor's Rendering of the Hominid Australopithecus afarensis

Sculptor's Rendering of the Hominid Australopithecus afarensis

Dave Einsel / Getty Images

Lucy is the name of the nearly complete skeleton of an Australopithecus afarensis. She was the first nearly complete skeleton recovered for the species, found in 1974 at the Afar Locality (AL) 228, a site in the Hadar archaeological region on the Afar Triangle of Ethiopia. Lucy is about 3.18 million years old, and is called Denkenesh in Amharic, the language of the local people.

Lucy is not the only early hominin found at Hadar. Many more A. afarensis hominids were found at AL-333. Fieldwork at Hadar continued in the 1990s, revealing several archaeological sites which date between 6 million years ago and 150,000 years years ago. To date, over 360 A. afarensis skeletons or partial skeletons have been found in the Hadar region. Two hundred sixteen were found at AL 333 and together with Al-288 are referred to as "the First Family".

Also included at Hadar are Oldowan tools and a Homo habilis dated to 2.33 million years ago.

Lucy's Significance

Although her discovery did indeed make some major changes in the understanding of pre-human hominids, I personally think the most significant thing about Lucy is that she was the topic of one of the most popular general science books ever published. The book by Johanson and Edey Maitland, called Lucy, the Beginnings of Mankind did a great deal toward making the scientific chase for the human ancestors understandable to the public.

Excavations at Hadar were conducted by Donald Johanson in the 1970s, and again in the 1990s.

Sources

This definition is part of the About.com Guide to the Lower Paleolithic.

This glossary entry is part of the Dictionary of Archaeology. Thanks are owed to Tadewos Assebework, of Indiana University, for correcting some minor errors.

Johanson, Donald C. 2004 Lucy, Thirty Years Later: An expanded view of Australopithecus afarensis. Journal of Anthropological Research 60(4):465-486.

Johanson, Donald C. and Tim D. White 1979 A systematic assessment of early African hominids. Science 203(4378):321-330.

Johanson, Donald C., Tim D. White, and Yves Coppens. 1978. A New Species of the Genus Australopithecus (Primates: Hominidae) from the Pliocene of Eastern Africa, Kirtlandia 28:2-14.

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