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Earth Printer Science Technology

Early Human Ancestor Lucy 'Died Falling Out of a Tree' (bbc.com) 123

An anonymous reader quotes a report from BBC: New evidence suggests that the famous fossilized human ancestor dubbed "Lucy" by scientists died falling from a great height -- probably out of a tree. CT scans have shown injuries to her bones similar to those suffered by modern humans in similar falls. The 3.2 million-year-old hominin was found on a treed flood plain, making a branch her most likely final perch. It bolsters the view that her species -- Australopithecus afarensis -- spent at least some of its life in the trees. Writing in the journal Nature, researchers from the U.S. and Ethiopia describe a "vertical deceleration event" which they argue caused Lucy's death. In particular they point to a crushed shoulder joint, of the sort seen when we humans reach out our arms to break a fall, as well as fractures of the ankle, leg bones, pelvis, ribs, vertebrae, arm, jaw and skull. Discovered in Ethiopia's Afar region in 1974, Lucy's 40%-complete skeleton is one of the world's best known fossils. She was around 1.1m (3ft 7in) tall and is thought to have been a young adult when she died. Her species, Australopithecus afarensis, shows signs of having walked upright on the ground and had lost her ancestors' ape-like, grasping feet -- but also had an upper body well-suited to climbing. The bones of this well-studied skeleton are in fact laced with fractures, like most fossils. By peering inside the bones in minute detail, the scanner showed that several of the fractures were "greenstick" breaks. The bone had bent and snapped like a twig: something that only happens to healthy, living bones. "The Ethiopian ministry has agreed to release 3D files of Lucy's right shoulder and her left knee. So anyone with an interest in this can print Lucy out and evaluate these fractures, and our hypothesis, for themsleves." You can find the files here.
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Early Human Ancestor Lucy 'Died Falling Out of a Tree'

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 29, 2016 @11:37PM (#52794073)

    Picture yourself in the middle of a jungle
    On a tangerine tree under marmalade skies
    Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
    A girl with kaleidoscope eyes
    Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
    Towering over your head
    Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
    And she's gone
    Lucy on the ground with broken leg
    Lucy on the ground with broken leg
    Lucy on the ground with broken leg
    Ouch

    • by Tablizer ( 95088 )

      Ending needs work to better fit the pattern of the original. Suggestion B:

      "Lucy falls from the sky and dies, man"

      Next!

  • How will we know for sure until we make a few dozen clones of Lucy and fling them out of tall trees?

    3D prints of an arm, indeed.

  • It's not clear to me as to why 'getting trampled by a large animal' is ruled out. At just over 3-1/2 feet tall, she probably didn't weigh much. From what height would she have fallen from in order to break all of those bones?
    • Yeah, "a crushed shoulder joint ... as well as fractures of the ankle, leg bones, pelvis, ribs, vertebrae, arm, jaw and skull" is a long list for a fall. Sounds more like she got run over by a truck.

      Unless maybe she was 100' up the tree, and hit a lot of branches on the way down.

    • It's not clear to me as to why 'getting trampled by a large animal' is ruled out. At just over 3-1/2 feet tall, she probably didn't weigh much. From what height would she have fallen from in order to break all of those bones?

      I was thinking more along the lines of: how do they know it was the fall that killed her? She could have had a brain aneurysm, died, and then fell out of a tree.

      If the "evidence" is to be believed (and I see many experts argue against it), all it shows proof of is the bones were broken. The locations and orientations of the fractures may indicate they were caused by a fall, but there is no way to know whether the breaks happened pre- or post-mortem.

      Yaz

      • by tomhath ( 637240 )
        If you had read the article you would know that the pattern of broken bones matches what happens when someone falls from a height of about 12 meters: broken legs on landing, then broken wrists and shoulders as the person tries to protect themself, then broken ribs and skull. Lucy had all of those; the broken wrists are especially interesting.
        • If you had read the article you would know that the pattern of broken bones matches what happens when someone falls from a height of about 12 meters: broken legs on landing, then broken wrists and shoulders as the person tries to protect themself, then broken ribs and skull. Lucy had all of those; the broken wrists are especially interesting.

          Yes, and if you read some of the critique, you'd know that Lucy's skeleton is riddled with cracks and broken bones due to the process of fossilization and millions of years of compression. There are questions as to why the team decided to focus only on specific fractures, and seemed to ignore the others.

          I'll admit I haven't read the paper itself yet to see if some of these were indeed death with, but I have read some critique from other researchers in this field, and it seems they have concerns as to metho

  • The Change (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Tablizer ( 95088 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2016 @12:01AM (#52794129) Journal

    For roughly 6 million years, there appear to be multiple species of up-right-walking apes who also partly lived in trees and had roughly the same brain-size as chimps. It was a stable niche. Lucy was one of them.

    Then new type of "ape" arose around a million years ago that relied ever more on tools and larger brains. The leading theory is that the climate started fluctuating heavily in Africa around that time, favoring adaptability over metabolic efficiency, and this is where human-ness branches off of ape-ness.

    • Re:The Change (Score:4, Interesting)

      by wanax ( 46819 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2016 @12:28AM (#52794207)

      Indeed, that is also consistent with many theories of Bonobo/Chimpanzee species split and the attendant bifurcation of their social evolution (ie. why the Bonobos fuck and the Chimps fight). The Bonobos, being south of the Congo river (newly formed circa 2m years ago), had little climatic distress to deal with, while the Chimps to the north did, which is why they developed a much more aggressive social organization.

      • What I've always found to be fascinating about that is that once split, Chimps and Bonobos came to exemplify the twin "dark sides" of human nature. The two animalistic drives churning beneath our reason in which we revel and resist as part of being human.
    • The leading theory is that the climate started fluctuating heavily in Africa around that time, favoring adaptability over metabolic efficiency, and this is where human-ness branches off of ape-ness.

      Indeed, Africa is said to be the cradle of intelligence.

      • Wouldn't believe it if you looked at it today.

        Then again, the middle east was probably the cradle of civilization, Greece the cradle of democracy, the US the cradle of civil rights...

        • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

          Well most of the time the peak of ones ability does not occur while they remain in the cradle and when it does we generally look upon it as a kind of tragedy.

    • "The leading theory is that the climate started fluctuating heavily in Africa around that time"
      Impossible, there were neither SUVs nor Republicans. Climate couldn't have changed, particularly rapidly, without either of those things to blame.

      • by dcw3 ( 649211 )

        "The leading theory is that the climate started fluctuating heavily in Africa around that time"
        Impossible, there were neither SUVs nor Republicans. Climate couldn't have changed, particularly rapidly, without either of those things to blame.

        If only she'd died from the flu...but then there were no anti-vax democrats around. /sarcasm

  • Falling out of a tree is probably how I'll go, too. Everything happens to me.

  • She didn't fall. She was pushed.

    • It obviously was a professional hit, staged to look like an accident.

      And they would've gotten away with it, too, if it weren't for those meddling anthropologists!

      • by gsslay ( 807818 )

        But they did get away with it. The anthropologists have swallowed the "she fell" story completely. And no-one even had to produce their alibis. It's the perfect murder!

    • by Zocalo ( 252965 )
      In before the inevitable SJW, then:

      Justice for Lucy! Hominid lives matter!
    • Shoving. Shoving is the answer, obviously.

  • by The Evil Atheist ( 2484676 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2016 @02:28AM (#52794451) Homepage
    Lucy the Hominid climbing up a tree.
    F, A, L, L, I, N, G
  • She must have had a heart attack on the way down.
  • RIP Me.

    I'm told it was a lovely service.

  • So one of our earliest known, not-quite-human, not-quite-ape ancestors died falling out of a tree?

    What'd she land on? Irony?

  • by twmcneil ( 942300 ) on Tuesday August 30, 2016 @09:36AM (#52795597)

    vertical deceleration event

    I'm going to have to write that one down.

  • The jokes just write themselves.

  • Did the apple fall near, or far from the tree?

  • if she didn't give birth to another homo sapiens, technically she is not really an ancestor, but a cousin.

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