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Famous fossil Lucy scanned at the University of Texas at Austin
Date:2/5/2009

AUSTIN, TexasResearchers at The University of Texas at Austin, in collaboration with the Ethiopian government, have completed the first high-resolution CT scan of the world's most famous fossil, Lucy, an ancient human ancestor who lived 3.2 million years ago.

Lucy is in the United States as part of a world premiere exhibit organized by the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

John Kappelman, professor of anthropology in the College of Liberal Arts, led the scientific team that conducted the scan of Lucy, whose remains include about 40 percent of her skeleton, making her the oldest and most complete skeleton of any adult, erect-walking human fossil.

"By examining the internal architecture of Lucy's bones, we can study how her skeleton supported her movement and posture, and compare that to modern humans and apes," Kappelman said. "Because Lucy is so complete, she is one of the few fossils that permit us to compare how she used her arms versus how she used her legs. These new data will allow us to examine the theory that she climbed about in the trees, as well as walked on two legs when she was on the ground."

Although Lucy is small (about one meter tall), her contribution to science has been large. She represents a distinct species of human ancestor, known as Australopithecus afarensis, or "southern ape of Afar," in reference to where the bones were found.

Prior to the 1974 discovery of Lucy, some theories of evolution suggested human-like intelligence evolved before upright posture (bipedalism). But the existence of ancient bipeds like Lucy refutes this theory because their brain is not significantly larger than that of a modern chimpanzee.

The Ethiopian government entrusted Lucy to Kappelman and Richard Ketcham, associate professor of geological sciences in the Jackson School of Geosciences and director of the university's High-Resolution X-ray Computed Tomography Facility, one of the world's premier labs
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Contact: Christian Clarke Casarez
christianc@austin.utexas.edu
512-232-6241
University of Texas at Austin
Source:Eurekalert

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