Saturday, 26 June 2010

Is ”Big Man” Lucy’s long-lost great-uncle?

No longer alone? A new fossil discovery is hailed as a relative of Lucy.

Joel Kontinen

Lucy’s long-lost great-uncle has been found. Or perhaps not.

Recently, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published a paper on a fossil discovered in Ethiopia, believed to be 3.58 million years old or 400,000 years older than Lucy. While Lucy was hardly 1 metre tall, her new male relative, dubbed Kadanuumuu or ”Big Man”, might have stood at anywhere from 1.5 to 1.8 metres tall.

Big Man’s estimated height varies so much because he has lost his head and lacks most of his bones. The partial fossil consists of a shoulder blade, a few ribs, shinbone and parts of the pelvis.

Authored by anthropologists Yohnannes Haile-Selassie and C. Owen Lovejoy, the paper has nevertheless re-ignited speculations of Lucy’s ability to walk upright as they believe that Big Man can also be classified as an Australopithecus afarensis.

This time, the media have been rather reticent about the discovery. National Geographic News for instance added a question mark after its headline. NG also mentioned that Zeresenay Alemseged, an anthropologist at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, does not think that the new discovery is Lucy’s relative.

Why do Haile-Selassie and his colleagues then believe that Lucy and Big Man walked upright? The answer may be found in the Laetoli footprints that are practically identical to the footprints of modern man.

They do not believe that modern humans had evolved at that time so they have to find an apeman or apewoman to leave those footprints that are assumed to be over 3 million years old.

Once again, researchers have let their preconceptions determine how they interpret old bones.


Dalton, Rex. 2010. Africa's next top hominid. Nature News. (21 June)

Than, Ker. 2010. "Lucy" Kin Pushes Back Evolution of Upright Walking? National Geographic News. (21 June)

3.6 Million-Year-Old Relative of 'Lucy' Discovered: Early Hominid Skeleton Confirms Human-Like Walking Is Ancient. Science Daily. 21 June. 2010