By Rachael Larimore (Slate)
Today’s Google Doodle is a lovely animation celebrating the anniversary of the discovery of Lucy, a 3.18-million-year-old Australopithecus afarensis fossil at the Hadar research site in the Afar region of Ethiopia.
On Nov. 24, 1974, paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson and a student, Tom Gray, discovered a forearm bone on a walk back to their car after a long day of fossil hunting, a find that led to a two-week excavation and the discovery of hundreds of bones and fragments that made up 40 percent of a complete skeleton. They named it Lucy.
Since then, our knowledge of human evolution—and our family tree—has expanded greatly. We know of more than 20 different hominid species, including as many as eight in Lucy’s genus, Australopithecus. And yet, Lucy is still arguably the most famous specimen. Why?
At the time, Lucy was the most complete hominin fossil on record. It can be hard for casual observers to understand how scientists can announce a new species based on a skull, or even on a collection of jawbones, but Lucy could give us a real and easily comprehended glimpse into our past. She was the first to provide evidence that walking on two legs evolved before our larger brains.
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