November | Tuesday | 24, 2015 :: Google Doodle marks the discovery of “Lucy”, a skeleton found 41 years ago in Ethiopia that helped scientists understand the evolution of apes into bipedal humans.
The Doodle shows an Australopithecus afarensis walking between a chimpanzee and a human, marking the transition between the two species.
Lucy is the common name of AL 288-1, several hundred pieces of bone fossils representing 40 percent of the skeleton of a female of the hominin species Australopithecus afarensis. In Ethiopia, the assembly is also known as Dinkinesh, which means “you are marvelous” in the Amharic language. Lucy was discovered in 1974 near the village Hadar in the Awash Valley of the Afar Triangle in Ethiopia by paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson.
Usually, for the arduous practice of paleoanthropology in the field, only few fossils and fragments of fossils are collected, and only rarely are skulls or ribs uncovered intact. But the Lucy “find” was extraordinary for the large fraction of the skeleton recovered and the significant amount of new information it provided, and for its age.
The Lucy specimen is an early australopithecine and is dated to about 3.2 million years ago. The skeleton presents a small skull akin to that of non-hominin apes, plus evidence of a walking-gait that was bipedal and upright, akin to that of humans (and other hominins); this combination supports the (debated) view of human evolution that bipedalism preceded increase in brain size.
“Lucy” acquired her name from the song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” by the Beatles, which was played loudly and repeatedly in the expedition camp all evening after the excavation team’s first day of work on the recovery site. After public announcement of the discovery, Lucy captured much public interest, becoming almost a household name at the time.
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. Lucy became famous in the US and around the world, and was returned to Ethiopia in 2013.