Lucy is one of the oldest and most important fossil skeletons ever discovered.
The archaeologists took her name from the Beatles’ song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which, in 1974, played over and over in their campsite. Her scientific name is Australopithecus afarensis.
A team of researchers led by Dr. Donald C. Johansen uncovered 40 percent of her skeleton, quite a complete finding compared to other hominoids of her age. She is about 3.4 million years old.
One day, Dr. Johansen noticed an arm bone sticking out of the ground in the Ethiopian valley where the archaeologists were digging. After 3 weeks of meticulous sand and sediment sifting, Lucy appeared.
The fact that her jaw showed the presence of wisdom teeth led experts to estimate that she was about 20 years old when she died. Using Lucy’s thigh bone as a measure, they determined her height to be about 3 ½ feet (105 centimeters). As with other Australopithecus, Lucy walked upright and had a relatively small brain.
The following year, 1975, archaeologists uncovered the fragments of bones from some of Lucy’s kin, approximately thirteen individuals, including men, women, and children. The placement of the bones suggested that all of them died together—but how?
The scientists examined the ground in which the bones were found and speculated that the bones were carried a distance by a flood.
Because the bones lay together more or less in a heap and were covered in the same silt, it is probable that they were suddenly deposited at a point where the rushing floodwater slowed quickly upon reaching a wide open area. This would allow the bones to sink to the bottom all together.
Then the sediment carried by the floodwaters would have settled over them, providing a wonderful environment for immediate burial and subsequent fossilization.