Monday, December 04, 2006


Anthropology: 'From Language to Lucy' - Donald Johanson on NPR (Audio + Video)

From 'Science Friday', December 1st, 2006: A decade ago, anthropologist Donald Johanson* wrote 'From Lucy to Language,' the story of our family tree as told by fossil remains, the most famous of which may be his own discovery, the skeleton known as 'Lucy' (Video describing the event).That find, made in November 1974 at the site of Hadar in Ethiopia, consisted of about 40 percent of a skeleton of a hominid that walked upright, stood about three and a half feet tall, and was just less than 3.18 million years old.

In this hour, we'll talk with Dr. Johanson about the latest in human origins research, and how our understanding of human origins has changed over the years.

Continued at "Anthropology: 'From Language to Lucy' - Donald Johanson on NPR (Audio)"

*From a brief bio on Johanson:

Dr. Donald C. Johanson is one of the world's leading and best known paleoanthropologist. He received his Masters Degree and Ph.D. in 1970 and 1974 from the University of Chicago, where he studied human paleontology...

...His field research has taken him to Tanzania, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Egypt and Jordan...

The early hominid species known as Australopithecus afarensis** includes fossils from two sites, Laetoli (video of the famous footprints) in northern Tanzania and Hadar in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Johanson's most acclaimed find occurred in 1974 at Hadar with the discovery of a 1.8 million-year-old partial skeleton of Homo habilis and Lucy, a 3.5 million-year-old nearly complete fossil of a female Australopithecus afarensis.


The species A. afarensis is one of the better known australopithecines, merely with regard to the number of samples attributed to the species. The species was named by D. Johanson and T. White in 1978. This lead to a heated debate over the validity of the species (seen in a 1980 issue of Science), with the species eventually being accepted by most researchers as a new species of australopithecine and a likely candidate for a human ancestor.

Possibly the best-known specimen of afarensis is AL 288-1 ("Lucy"), a 3.2 million year old partial skeleton found in November 1974 at Hadar, Ethiopia. The afarensis can be separated into two chronological categories: early (3.9-3.5 myr) and late (3.5-2.96 myr). Early afarensis includes material from Laetoli and Belohdelie (and possibly Sibilot Hill), with later afarensis known mainly from Hadar and Maka. Other important specimens attributed to afarensis include the AL 333 specimens (such as A.L. 333-105), AL 444-2, AL 129-1A + 1B, the Laetoli footprints, and the type specimen for the species A. afarensis, LH 4.

QuickTime video links are also available via these PBS Evolution pages: Finding Lucy | Laetoli Footprints

Books on Anthropology from the Science and Evolution Bookshop: UK | US

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