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Chad Tyler , left, and David Hanke position "Lucy," a life-sized reconstruction of one of the oldest members of the human family, in the hominid section of the Field Museum's new "Evolving Planet" exhibit Friday, March, 3, 2006 in Chicago.  (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)

How did our ancestor Lucy die? Scientists have an answer 3.2 million years later


The discovery of a skeleton of an early human ancestor, nicknamed 'Lucy,'  rocked the biology world in 1974.  She was the closest thing to a "missing link" scientists had found. 

Now, 3.2 million years after her death (give or take a few), authors of a new study in the U.K. journal Nature claim to have found the cause of her death. She fell out of a tree. 

That itself is significant. As the study notes, Lucy's discovery has been tied to a debate over whether human ancestors moved through trees. 

How'd they figure that out?

By looking at the bones. 

Specifically, scientists looked at how Lucy's bones were broken. Based on how the way her legs and shoulders broke, she probably landed feet-first stuck her hands out to break her fall, but didn't survive after falling as far as 40 feet. 

"We were surprised by this. Rarely is the cause of death preserved in bones," said John Kappelman, the study's lead author.

By understanding her death is how she came alive to me.
John Kappelman, lead author of the Lucy study

What was she doing in the tree?

She was probably hiding from predators. The study claims Lucy was only about 60 pounds and about 3 feet, 6 inches tall. That's not exactly imposing. 

Wait, why is she named Lucy?

According to Arizona State University, the camp site where she was found started playing "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds" over and over as the team celebrated its discovery. So, someone called her Lucy. 

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