Lucy, three-foot-tall with an ape-like skull, jaws and teeth, and long dangling arms could be humanity’s most famous ancestor — the Mother of Mankind — or a distant relative. That’s right. The possibility she may have been human relates to the fact she walked upright just like we do.
Her bones were discovered in Ethiopia over 40 years ago, and she lived 3.2 million years ago.
But it’s the mystery of how she died that researchers are trying to unravel.
The manner of her death is significant because it provides important insight into how our ancestors evolved from tree-dwelling apes into bipeds that roamed the African savanna.
After poring over the bones and meticulously turning recent scans into 3D models, scientists analysed what they believed to be breaks in her right arm, left shoulder, right ankle and left knee.
These injuries, they hypothesised, were the result of an impact following a fall from considerable height.
“Lucy has been at the centre of a vigorous debate about the role, if any, of arboreal locomotion in early human evolution,” the research paper says. “It is therefore ironic that her death can be attributed to injuries resulting from a fall, probably out of a tall tree, thus offering unusual evidence for the presence of arborealism in this species.”
Lead researcher John Kappelman theorized that Lucy’s walking ability may have caused her to be less adept at climbing trees, making her more vulnerable to falling from heights.
But several other researchers, including Lucy’s discoverer, disagree. They contend most of the cracks in Lucy’s bones are well documented and came after her death from the fossilisation process and natural forces such as erosion.
Even if they find a way to prove Lucy died from a fall from a high place, that still wouldn’t help much in terms of her ability to climb trees. She could have fallen from a cliff instead of a tree, in which case her adeptness, or otherwise, at climbing trees wouldn’t be a factor.
And I can’t see how it could ever be determined whether it was a tree she fell from — or some other high place.
So it beats me why those guys are still arguing about what caused Lucy’s death, when it won’t in any case prove definitively whether or not she lived in trees.