Some 3.2 million years ago, there lived a female Australopithecus afarensis whose remains were found in 1974 in Hadar, Ethiopia. Lucy, as she was named, has provided amazing insights into early human ancestors.

Only standing around 3.5 feet tall and weighing just over 60 pounds, Lucy had a small brain similar to chimpanzees. However, she could walk upright on two legs, something that had never been seen before in such an early hominin.

Lucy’s well-preserved skeleton, comprised of around 40% of her total bones, allowed scientists to piece together details of her life. Her legs were shorter than ours but her feet had arches, suggesting she walked in a somewhat human-like manner.

Her arms were longer and better suited for climbing trees, showing she still spent time in trees but was making the transition to walking on land. Her pelvis and upright stance resembled modern humans.

By studying teeth and bone growth, scientists determined Lucy was an adult when she died around 13 years old. Her diet focused on fruits, plants and seeds available in the grasslands and forests of Africa at that time.

Scientists believe she likely fell from a tree, as indicated by fractures on her bones. Although not a direct ancestor of modern humans, Lucy gave us key insights into our earliest origins and how human ancestors evolved over millions of years.

Replicating ancient hominins like Lucy requires painstaking reconstruction. Scientists first extensively study the species’ skeletal structure to construct an articulated steel frame with accurate posture. Clay is molded over the frame to represent muscles, skin, wrinkles and folds.

Silicon molds are made from this clay model and used to cast layered silicon skin replicas with precise surface details. Individual hairs are then manually added one by one using needles. Anthropologists carefully advise each phase to ensure scientific accuracy.

At the Nature Education Center of Jagiellonian University in Krakow, Poland, visitors can see Lucy’s silicon reconstruction alongside models of a Neanderthal and Homo erectus. These human ancestor exhibits help illustrate our evolutionary tree in the hall dedicated to human evolution.

Representatives from various hominin skulls are also on display. The precision models were created by the team at Kamyk Piotr Menducki in Ostrowiec Świętokrzyski, Poland in close consultation with the Nature Education Center’s anthropologists.

Lucy has taught us so much about our early human past. Though small in size, she represents a crucial transition stage between ancestral tree-dwellers and modern upright walkers. Her partial skeleton continues providing a glimpe into humankind’s amazing story of evolution.


Jagiellonian University in Kraków

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