Lucy Died After Falling From a Tree

Subject: Psychology
Type: Profile Essay
Pages: 4
Word count: 1152
Topics: Human Nature, Anthropology, Nature

Anthropological history of humans is something that is not easily deciphered or learned about. The study of the evolution of the human species relies heavily on the continued study of previous skeletal remains in relation to hypothesized conditions surrounding that time and place in human history. It is because of the difficulties in analyzing the skeletal remains of human ancestors that the story of the Australopithecus Afarensis, fondly called Lucy, in 1974 grabbed international headlines. Her skeletal remains, perfectly preserved for over 3.14 million years tells her story – from birth to death, simply by reviewing the bone structure using modern technology. The clear hypothesis gleaned from these studies indicate that she died because she fell from a tree.  This research paper is meant to show evidence that this hypothesis is true based upon academic journal research and further study of evidences using modern technology. 

Lucy was bestowed her name by scientists who in turn, borrowed the name from the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds”, which was playing repeatedly on the night that the discovery team was celebrating the confirmation that they had in fact, discovered a Homonid female. Nobody really remembers who first used the name on the specimen, just that the name somehow stuck (Lucy’s Story n.d.) . She was found at a dig site in Hadar, Ethopia in 1974. She was part of the remains that helped prove the age of early man as older than 3.0 Ma (Kimbel & Delcene 2009). The remains were discovered by Arizona State University scientists Donald Johanson and Tom Gray in November 24, 1974 (Sci News, 2016). For the past 30 years, Lucy has served as the basis for the study of this generation of Homonids. 

Often described as a small being of no more than 3 ½ in height and approximately 60 pounds, Lucy is believed to have died during her teenage years. Somewhere between the ages of 15 – 16 years old (Strickland 2016). She is considered to be a very interesting piece of paleoanthropological discovery since her bones help to clearly tell the story of her life and how she died. Due to her height constraints and given the era within which she lived, it is believed that she may have been part of a race of people who resided in trees. This would be a logical conclusion since the height description of Lucy would make the species prone to animal attacks. The bone structure, though indicating that the being stood upright, had evidence of the ability to swing from trees. While her physical structure from afar would have allowed her to pass for modern man, the fact that she had a smaller than average skull, which could only house a small brain, possibly chimpanzee like in size, with longer arms and hair, all indicate that she is not of the Homo Sapien variety of man but rather a Homonid (Jungers 1982). 

There is an ongoing restoration project on the body of Lucy which, at 40 percent completion, has shown some highly interesting and informative signs regarding the life and times of the famous skeleton. Due to the current understanding of her limbs, the debate as to whether this specific line of beings had the ability to climb trees, similar to that of chimpanzees. Her bones show clear signs of a fractured right humerus uncommon in most fossils. This one, preserved sharp bone fragments and slivers still in place. In modern man, these types of evidence are only seen in compressive fractures to the shoulder (Sci News 2016). While there are some questions as to whether these bone fragments belong to only one specimen, evidence related to non-duplication of bone fragments leads to the accepted fact that there is only one specimen, in a single size, during a single development in that specie’s life (Lucy’s Story N.D.). Therefore, there cannot be any question as to whether the scientists are dealing with multiple or single beings in this instance. 

The hypothesis pertaining to her death relates to the physical structure and assumed abilities due to the perceived abilities of a being with such a physical set up. With her frontal limbs being longer than her hind limbs, the image of a chimpanzee-like human was conceptualized. Factoring in the height and weight assumptions of Lucy and it stood to logic that she and her people were descendants of chimpanzees and, could very well have lived in trees. As with any other living creature, the danger of living in trees, usually a fall, existed for Lucy. That is why it is presumed by scientists that her fractured skull and other related injuries were the result of a direct fall from a tree. 

Owing to the evidence that Lucy had the ability to walk as a biped, it is possible that at the time, this type of human did not have the ability to build shelter and defend itself against predators at night. The most logical shelter would have been tree limbs, which would keep Lucy and her family away from the ground where they would be easy targets for prey.  The most recent research on Lucy’s bones indicate:

… that her cause of death was a vertical deceleration event or impact following a fall from considerable height that produced compressive and hinge (greenstick) fractures in multiple skeletal elements. Impacts that are so severe as to cause concomitant fractures usually also damage internal organs; together, these injuries are hypothesized to have caused her death (Kappelman, 2016).

Think of how a human would try to break his fall after tripping. One would normally outstretch his arms, hitting the pavement with his hands, which would cause a ripple effect and, possibly injury to the shoulders. Depending upon the height of the fall, there will either be only severe pain and jarring of the bone structure or as in the case of Lucy, multiple injuries resulting in a compound fracture on the left side of the body. 

While unable to make direct and comparative studies of the actual remains of Lucy, as these are being preserved in a specially constructed safe in the Paleoanthropology Laboratories of the National Museum of Ethopia in Addis Ababa (Lucy’s Story n.d.), the digital imaging recreations of the bones, of which more than 35, 000 were created, have helped the scientists to accurately examine, experiment, and conclude upon their given hypothesis. What they are sure about, is that Lucy fell from a tree, what she fell into, whether it be a river, a hard surface, or something similar, is what cannot be predicted at this point. 

The history of Lucy’s life continues to be an enigma to scientists. However, her death is no longer in question because of the results of these studies and experiments. The most famouns Homonid of all time fell from a tree at a very young age and ill opportune time in her life. 

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  1. “Australopithecus afarensis.” Breaking Science News | N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
  2. Jungers, William L. “Lucy’s limbs: skeletal allometry and locomotion in Australopithecus afarensis.” Nature 297.5868 (1982): 676-78. Web.
  3. Kappelman, John, Richard A. Ketcham, Stephen Pearce, Lawrence Todd, Wiley Akins, Matthew W. Colbert, Mulugeta Feseha, Jessica A. Maisano, and Adrienne Witzel. “Perimortem fractures in Lucy suggest mortality from fall out of tall tree.” Nature 537.7621 (2016): 503-07. Web.
  4. Kimbel, William H., and Lucas K. Delezene. ““Lucy” redux: A review of research on Australopithecus afarensis.” American Journal of Physical Anthropology 140.S49 (2009): 2-48. Web.
  5. “Lucy’s Story.” Lucy’s Story | Institute of Human Origins. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
  6. Strickland, Ashley. “How did Lucy, our early human ancestor, die?” CNN. Cable News Network, 30 Aug. 2016. Web. 30 Apr. 2017.
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