Specimen number:
AL 288-1
Accession number:
AL 288-1
11.13, 40.58
Date min:
3,180,000 Bp
Date max:
3,180,000 Bp
Australopithecus, Australopithecus afarensis
Time periods:
NHM - Australopithecus afarensis Skelett

NHM - Australopithecus afarensis Skelett

Lucy is one of the most famous hominins ever found. She was discovered in Hadar, a palaeoanthropological site in the Awash Valley of the Afar Triangle in Ethiopia in 1974. This partial skeleton of a female Australopithecus afarensis is composed of several hundred pieces of fossiled bones representing 40 percent of the individual [1][2][3][4].


Lucy or A.L. 288-1 is a 3.2 million-year-old partial skeleton of a female Australopithecus afarensis found by palaeoanthropologist Donald Johanson in Hadar, Ethiopia on November 24, 1974 [3][4][5]. The skeleton presents a small skull similar to that of non-hominin apes, as well as evidence of a walking gait that was bipedal and upright, similar to that of humans (and other hominins); this combination supports the view of human evolution that bipedalism preceded the increase in brain size. A 2016 study [6] proposed that Australopithecus afarensis was also to a large extent tree-dwelling, though the extent of this is still largely debated [1]

Lucy (also known as “Denkenesh” in Amharic) acquired her name from the 1967 Beatles song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds", which was being played loudly and repeatedly in the expedition camp all evening after the excavation team's first day of work on the recovery site. After the public announcement of the discovery, Lucy captured much public interest, becoming a household name at the time [2][1].

Lucy became famous worldwide, and the story of her discovery and reconstruction was published in a book by Johanson. Beginning in 2007, the fossil assembly and associated artifacts were exhibited publicly in an extended six-year tour of the United States; the exhibition was called Lucy's Legacy: The Hidden Treasures of Ethiopia. There was a discussion of the risks of damage to the unique fossils, and other museums preferred to display casts of the fossil assembly. The original fossils were returned to Ethiopia in 2013, and subsequent exhibitions have used casts [1].

Lucy’s Death

According to a 2016 study [7], the cause of Lucy’s death was a vertical deceleration event or the impact following a fall from a considerable height most likely from a tall tree which resulted in compressive and hinge (greenstick) fractures in multiple skeletal elements. The severe impact of her fall resulted in fractures and internal organ damage.

It was hypothesized that Lucy fell from a tall tree, landing feet-first and twisting to the right.  According to the location and severity of the fractures, the impact moved from the feet and legs to the hips, arms, thorax, and head. Although the fractures in Lucy’s humeri show evidence that she was conscious when she stretched out her arms to break her fall, the severity of the numerous compressive fractures and presumed organ damage suggest that death followed swiftly [7].


Cited References

  1. 1.

  2. 2.

  3. 3.

  4. 4.

    The paleoanthropology of Hadar, Ethiopia

    Comptes Rendus Palevol 16(2)

  5. 5.

  6. 6.

  7. 7.

This page was last edited on November 10, 2022 at 15:08:00 UTC