- Momotarou2012/Wikimedia Commons
Tuesday’s Google doodle celebrates the 41st anniversary of the discovery of the famed early human species “Lucy,” who lived more than 3 million years ago.
Her remains were unearthed on November 24, 1974, near the village of Hadar in Ethiopia, by anthropologists Donald Johanson and Tom Gray.
They found 40% of her skeleton, including her skull, forearm, thigh bone, pelvis, lower jaw, and a few ribs.
Humanity’s most famous ancestor
Lucy belongs to a species called Australopithecus afarensis, which itself is merely a branch on a bigger tree which scientists refer to as hominids.
The hominid group includes humans, other great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, and orangutans), and all of their now-extinct relatives.
But what distinguished the first hominids – some of whom would go on to become modern humans – from other apes is their ability to walk on two feet.
While Lucy’s species could stand upright, studies suggest they may have spent a lot of their time in trees.
Based on dating of volcanic ash in which Lucy was found, scientists estimate her age to be between 3.18 and 3.2 million years old.
She was named after the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” which was supposedly playing on the night her discoverers were celebrating their finding.
Because of Lucy’s size, scientists determined she was a female. Males of her species are bigger.
What we still don’t know is how Lucy died.
According to Arizona State University’s Institute of Human Origins, if she was killed by an animal, such as a hyaena, we would find signs that her bones had been chewed or crushed, but there’s not a lot of evidence for that. The only mark on her bones is a puncture wound from a carnivore tooth on the top of her left pubic bone, which occurred near the time of her death but may not have been the cause.
Earlier this year, the remains of a fossil of the species Australopithecus prometheus, dubbed “Little Foot,” was found to have lived around the same time as Lucy’s species.
In September, scientists discovered a new human ancestor in a cave in South Africa, dubbed Homo naledi. The new species is thought to lie on the evolutionary tree somewhere between Lucy’s species, A. afarensis, and Homo erectus, an extinct great-ape species that walked upright.