In Ethiopia, Lucy refers to a female hominid skeleton found at Hadar – about 300 km north of Addis Ababa – in the Lower Valley of Awash of Ethiopia’s Danakil Depression in the Afar Triangle, that was discovered in 1974 by Donald Johanson. Officially named AL 288-1, and classified at the species Australopithecus afarensis, it was soon dubbed “Lucy”, after the Beatle’s song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” which was frequently played at the archaeologists’ camp. In Ethiopia, she is called “Dinknesh,” meaning “the wondrous one”.
The Lucy fossil was about 1.1m tall and must have weighed some 29kg, looking somewhat like a chimpanzee. The pelvis and leg bones were very similar to those of humans, by which it was determined that these primates walked erect, the primary characteristic of homonid primates. The skeleton was dated by applying the argon-argon radiometric dating method to the volcanic ash surrounding it.
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 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.
Other casts and reconstructions can be seen at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Field Museum in Chicago. A diorama of Australopithecus afarensis and other homonid species is displayed in the Hall of Human Biology and Evolution at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City as well as in the National Museum of Natural History in Washington.
Located in the Afar Triangle, the discovery “dig” – as archaeologists and paleontologists call a research site – of Lucy is characterized by a brutally hot climate. Excavations at Hadar resumed in 1990 and continue today; thus far, some 400 hominin bone fragments have been found, most of which belonging to A. afarensis. Some stone flakes suggest that Hadar may also be home to some of the earliest hominin stone tools.
A recovered female skeleton nicknamed ‘Ardi’ is 4.4 million years old, some 1.2 million years older than the skeleton of Australopithecus afarensis ‘Lucy’.
There is a wealth of paleo-anthropological and pre-historic tools still awaiting discovery and scientific study and these are seen as constituting an exceptionally important cultural heritage resource.
The importance of the hills around Hadar in the discovery of human evolution continues to grow as more scientific findings take place. The site has been declared a UNESCO world heritage site that relates to the history of Ethiopian Lucy.
A visit to know more about Lucy can be made to the National Museum of Ethiopia, where the fragments of Lucy’s skeleton are kept, and to the archaeological place at Hadar, Afar, where she was found 43 years ago. The national museum is park of both our half day and full day city tours. A custom tour package can be arranged to the Lucy discovery site.