Did fall from tree kill famous human ancestor Lucy?

Model of “Lucy”
Model of “Lucy”
Published Aug. 30, 2016

LOS ANGELES — The famous human ancestor known as Lucy walked the Earth, but it was her tree climbing that might have led to her demise, a new study suggests.

An analysis of her partial skeleton reveals breaks in her right arm, left shoulder, right ankle and left knee — injuries that researchers say resulted from falling from a high perch such as a tree.

Lucy likely died quickly, said John Kappelman, an anthropologist at the University of Texas at Austin, who published the findings Monday in Nature.

But several other researchers, including Lucy's discoverer, disagree. They contend most of the cracks in Lucy's bones are well documented and came after her death from the fossilization process and natural forces such as erosion.

"There's no definitive proof of how she died," Lucy's discoverer Donald Johanson said,

How Lucy met her end has remained a mystery since her well-preserved fossil remains were unearthed more than four decades ago in Ethiopia. Her discovery was significant because it allowed scientists to establish that ancient human ancestors walked upright before evolving a big brain.

Lucy was a member of Australopithecus afarensis, an early human species that lived in Africa between about 4 million and 3 million years ago.