Anniversary Post: Lucy

LucyOn this day in 1974, Lucy — or as her friends know her, AL 288-1 — was discovered. She is our best representative of Australopithecus afarensis, a hominid that lived between three and four million years ago. Her fossilized skeleton is thought to date back to about 3.2 million years ago. What is most interesting about her is she seems to have walked on two legs. At the same time, she had a small skull, like that of non-hominid apes. Thus, we believe that humans walked upright before we developed our ridiculously large brains.

I find this kind of stuff fascinating. We humans are so focused on our brains, but they really are part of a larger evolutionary picture. If not, why don’t all animals just get bigger and bigger brains? Being smarter is not necessarily an advantage. We can see that in our own world. There’s the question people like me hate, “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?!” I also relate it to VHS and Betamax. The latter actually had a better quality, but the former was good enough — along with some features that made it more useful. That’s how I think of rich people who started poor: generally smart enough with the right skills for making money — rarely brilliant.

So why bipedalism and then increased brain size? It appears to be because freeing up the hands led to building of tools. And in that, being smarter was a major advantage. So evolution selected for bigger brains only after our ancestors started walking on two legs. As I said: fascinating.

4 thoughts on “Anniversary Post: Lucy

  1. I have one of Johanson’s books, the first one Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind. His Institute of Human Origins is at ASU so if you want to, you can (and I have) go stand next to the replica of Lucy. She is pretty short.

    The best part of the book was his discussion of the fight over which came firs-the brain or the bipedalism with a detail examination of the Piltdown Man nonsense. That was way more interesting because it exposes how easy it is to believe nonsense despite being super duper smart.

    • I requested the book. It sounds great. I’m very interested in that kind of stuff. That’s something that makes me feel bad for Biblical literalists is that they lose out on all this kind of stuff. It’s just fascinating. With Lucy we are talking about a time not that long after we and the chimps split off in our journeys to the present. I was reading about the differences in the arm lengths between Lucy and chimps and us. An early episode of Futurama did a bit making fun of the idea of the “missing link.” Regardless of the links you find, the literalists will always find another.

      • It is great, I think you will enjoy it immensely. I am not sure if he is the one who is the great writer or if his co-author is but it was really accessible to 17 year old me.

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