In Ethiopia, she is known as “Dinkinesh” — Amharic for “you are marvelous.” It’s an apt name for one of the most complete ancient hominid skeletons ever found, an assemblage of fossilized bones that has given scientists unprecedented insight into the history of humanity.
You probably know her as Lucy.
Discovered in 1974, wedged into a gully in Ethiopia’s Awash Valley, the delicate, diminutive skeleton is both uncannily familiar and alluringly strange. In some ways, the 3.2-million-year-old Australopithecus was a lot like us; her hips, feet and long legs were clearly made for walking. But she also had long arms and dexterous curved fingers, much like modern apes that still swing from the trees.
So, for decades scientists have wondered: Who exactly was Lucy (Dinkinesh)? Was she lumbering and land-bound, like us modern humans? Or did she retain some of the ancient climbing abilities that made her ancestors — and our own — champions of the treetops?
A new study suggests she was a little of both: Though her lower limbs were adapted for bipedalism, she had exceptionally strong arm bones that allowed her to haul herself up branches, researchers reported Wednesday in the journal PLoS One.
“This is what makes Lucy so fascinating,” said lead author Christopher Ruff, a biological anthropologist at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. “She had crossed a lot of thresholds on the path to becoming human, but not all of them.”