ScienceShot: Lucy's Svelte Look

23 September 2013 3:45 pm

Reconstruction by John Gurche/courtesy of The Cleveland Museum of Natural History

The famous skeleton Lucy has had a makeover, thanks to newly discovered fossils. A reconstruction of the 3.2-million-year-old hominin emerged Friday with a trimmer figure, showing off a distinct neck, a narrower waistline, and arched foot. Earlier reconstructions, relying on scanty fossil rib bones and living African apes such as chimpanzees and gorillas, had given her a cone-shaped thorax and potbelly. That implied that her species, Australopithecus afarensis, had retained adaptations for moving in the trees a lot like chimps. But in the past few years, researchers have found additional ribs and a new foot bone of A. afarensis. The ribs are curved, which translates to a barrel-shaped thorax like modern humans, paleoanthropologist Carol Ward of the University of Missouri, Columbia, showed in a symposium on Friday. And the foot bone shows a distinct arch. This suggests that Lucy and her kin spent plenty of time on the ground, although they probably still climbed and slept in trees. The reconstruction, overseen by paleoanthropologist Yohannes Haile-Selassie of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and created by artist John Gurche, was unveiled Friday as part of an exhibit on human evolution at the museum.

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