Human ancestor ‘Lucy’ died falling from a tree
Lucy, one of the best known ancestors of humans to ever roam the earth, may have died after a fall from a tree, University of Texas researchers said on Monday after studying her 3.18-million-year-old fossilized remains.
A high resolution X-ray CT scan of Lucy, a female hominid, indicates she suffered fractures to her right upper arm not typically seen in fossils. There were also less severe fractures on the left shoulder and other compressive fractures throughout the skeleton, they said.
The injuries were consistent with those “caused by a fall from considerable height when the conscious victim stretched out an arm in an attempt to break the fall,” according to John Kappelman, a University of Texas anthropology and geological sciences professor, who consulted with Stephen Pearce, an orthopedic surgeon at the Austin Bone and Joint Clinic.
“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.
Lucy’s skeleton was unearthed in 1974 in Ethiopia. Since then, researchers around the world have been looking at the fossil of the hominid to find its links to modern humans. Kappelman speculated that Lucy, who was 107 cms tall, foraged and sought nightly refuge in trees. Her injuries indicate she fell from a height of about of more than 12 meters.
University of Texas researchers, including Kappelman, in 2009 completed the first high resolution computed tomography scan of Lucy when the fossil toured the United States. The study resulted in some 35,000 CT electronic slices, which were then studied by university researchers.
“When the extent of Lucy’s multiple injuries first came into focus, her image popped into my mind’s eye, and I felt a jump of empathy across time and space,” Kappelman said.
Reconstruction of ‘Lucy’ fossil remains