“Lucy” skeleton discoverer speaks on campus


    Twenty-five years after his first visit to campus, the man who found the 3.2 million-year-old skeleton named Lucy returned to speak at the university Tuesday.  

    Donald Johanson told the story of Lucy’s discovery and how she forever changed the family tree of humanity.

    “No matter which tree you grab onto, the roots lead back to Africa,” Johanson said. “We are unified by a common past, but we are all the same species, no matter how different we may be.”

    Johanson discovered Lucy in 1974 during an expedition in Hadar, Ethiopia, he said. He was 31 years old.

    The name “Lucy” came from the Beatles song, “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” he said. The song was playing shortly after her discovery, and the name stuck.

    Now almost 70, Johanson said people around the world continue to talk about one of the oldest, most complete human fossils ever found.

    “It’s like bringing up the name of an old relative,” he said.

    Lucy has a mixture of human and chimpanzee features. According to Johanson, Lucy has become a mentor for studying and understanding evolution and the origins of human life.

    Dani Marshall, an anthropology major at University of Texas at Arlington, said she found out about the speech through one of her professors and wanted to show her mother and boyfriend firsthand what she was studying.

    Johanson gave the young people and students in the audience advice about their futures.

    “Find something that just really turns you on, that you want to dedicate your life to, that you think will make a difference,” he said. “Not only for your own intellectual development, your own emotional development, but for the knowledge that is still waiting out there to be discovered.”

    Since the discovery of Lucy, there have been hundreds of skeletons that resemble Lucy's found all over Africa, Johanson said.

    Johanson concluded the speech by addressing the uncertainty of what is next for the study of human origins.

    “We know where we have come from, but we don’t know where we are going,” he said.

    The floor was then opened for questions from the audience, followed by Johanson signing copies of his book, “Lucy’s Legacy: The Quest for Human Origins.”

    Standing first in line to get their books signed were sophomore social work majors Devon Greenlee and Laine Baizer. The two got the books as Christmas gifts for their fathers, they said.

    Greenlee and Baizer said they attended the event to receive extra credit for an anthropology class, but were pleasantly surprised at how Johanson kept the speech interesting and the crowd laughing.

    Johanson founded the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University, where he currently serves as the director. He returned from Lucy’s place of discovery in Ethiopia last Thursday, where his field team continues his research, he said.

    “I hope it’s not another 25 years before I come back to TCU,” Johanson said.