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Lucy Fell From Tree 3.2 Million Years Ago, Says Fossil Autopsy

Image: Lucy Fell From Tree 3.2 Million Years Ago, Says Fossil Autopsy

Lucy's digital autopsy images. (University of Texas at Austin)

By    |   Tuesday, 30 Aug 2016 07:27 AM

Lucy fell from a tree in Ethiopia nearly 3.2 million years ago, killing one of humankind's most famous ancestors, believe researchers at the University of Texas based on a detailed digital examination of the fossil.

The 3.18-million-year-old skeletal fossil, about 40 percent complete, are among the oldest, most complete skeletons of any adult, erect-walking human ancestor ever found, said the University of Texas. Dubbed Lucy, the skeleton was found in the Afar region of Ethiopia in 1974, but how she died had been a mystery.

In 2008, University of Texas anthropologist John Kappelman, along with geological sciences professor Richard Ketcham, examined Lucy's fossils at the university's High-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Facility. They scanned the bones to create a digital archive of more than 35,0000 CT slices.

After noticing that the skeleton's right humerus was fractured in a manner not normally seen in fossils, Kappelman consulted Dr. Stephen Pearce, an orthopedic surgeon at Austin Bone and Joint Clinic.

Pearce confirmed that the injury was consistent with "a four-part proximal humerus fracture, caused by a fall from considerable height when the conscious victim stretched out an arm in an attempt to break the fall."

"This compressive fracture results when the hand hits the ground during a fall, impacting the elements of the shoulder against one another to create a unique signature on the humerus," Kappelman said.

Kappelman was the lead author of the study on Lucy which was published Monday in the science journal Nature.

William L. Jungers, a paleoanthropologist at Stony Brook University, and Laura Martín-Francés, a postdoctoral researcher at the National Research Centre on Human Evolution in Burgos, Spain, told The New York Times that Kappelman's conclusion was credible.

Jungers said the new theory into Lucy's death was "a provocative but plausible scenario," while Martín-Francés added that she was impressed with detail of the examination.

"For me, it's quite accurate what they have done," Martín-Francés said.

Paleoanthropologist Donald C. Johanson, who helped find the bones in the 1970s, told the Times that it was more likely that the fractures occurred long after her death, as her skeleton was buried under sand rather than a tree fall.

"Elephant bones and hippo ribs appear to have the same kind of breakage," Johanson told the Times. "It's unlikely they fell out of a tree."

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Lucy fell from a tree in Ethiopia nearly 3.2 million years ago, killing one of humankind's most famous ancestors, believe researchers at the University of Texas based on a detailed digital examination of the fossil.
lucy, fell, tree, fossil, autopsy
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2016-27-30
Tuesday, 30 Aug 2016 07:27 AM
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