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Riddle of the Bones

Intro | How did they move? | What did they look like? | Are they all the same species? | When did they live?

East Africa ... 3.2 million years ago

It rarely happens. Yet this night it does. A creature falls to her death on the shore of a lake, and her body is blanketed by silt and sand. Her immaculately preserved fossils, eons later, have a story to tell. But how to decipher them?

The team that found her called her Lucy, after "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," the song they played over and over as they celebrated her discovery in 1974. Other remarkable fossils of Lucy's species, Australopithecus afarensis, were later unearthed at other sites. Together, they offer a picture of one of our earliest human ancestors.

Learn how scientists solve the riddles of ancient bones. Below are snapshots of four important fossil sites for A. afarensis.

The fossil evidence:

fossil skeleton of Lucy

A 40 percent complete skeleton. Discovered by Donald Johanson in 1974 in Hadar, Ethiopia.

reconstructed fossil skull

Hadar Skull
The first well-preserved skull for this species, A. afarensis. Discovered by Yoel Rak in 1992 in Hadar, Ethiopia.

track of two sets of footprints

Laetoli Footprints
A trail of 69 prints captured in volcanic ash. Discovered by a team led by Mary Leakey in 1978 in Laetoli, Tanzania.

various bone and teeth fossils

The First Family
Fragments of 13 individuals who may have perished together. Discovered by a team led by Donald Johanson in 1975 in Hadar, Ethiopia.

Continue on to explore the evidence at these sites, and learn about the techniques scientists use to understand when our ancestors lived, and how they looked and moved.

-> Find out how they moved

Intro | How did they move? | What did they look like? | Are they all the same species? | When did they live?

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