From Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds to “She fell from a tree”
— Reanimating the story of a famous fossil’s fall from grace.
By Andrea Morisette Grazzini
I have a bone to pick regarding speculation on the demise of Australopithecus. She was the original owner of the 3.2 million year old skeleton found in the Awash River Africa area, in 1974. Now she’s back in the news thanks to a University of Texas-Austin paleobiologist who insists he has hit upon the true story of how she died.
As a fan of Louis Leakey who, during my middle-class suburban childhood, fantasized that I’d someday be an anthropologist spending years painstakingly digging up the dusty Ngorongoro floor with a spoon — with due respect — I roundly reject Dr. John Kappelman’s uninspiring depiction (regardless how scientifically robust) of our precocious pre-human, the lovely #Hominid(ae), #Lucy.
She “fell from a tree?” What a bland hypothesis (especially, IMHO, coming from a Harvard-alum)! Could we not do just a LITTLE bit better?
How about this?
Lucy’s children were probably howling yet again about how they were starving, complaining that it always took her “like an epoch” to pull dinner together. The Ethiopian rain forest offered a produce selection Costco and Cub could only dream of. But Lucy was no slacker mom. Surely she wanted her children to evolve the species when they grew up. If they were ever going to get to the Neanderthal stage they would at least need a New Age diet.
She likely left them bickering in their treehouse nest, maybe each had a slate smart tablet with a chunk of titanium basalt to entertain them. Setting off, I think it’s safe to say she would have been simply seeking the best for her charming chimps.
LIKE MOTHERS EVER SINCE, she no doubt, too, went to heroic lengths. Battling monsoonal rains and volcanos caused by tectonic shifts, maybe she finally made it to the Red Sea. Could be that she even hoped to God (though He actually wasn’t yet born, so she couldn’t really call Him that) that no one saw her. The commute surely would have left her feeling something less than sexy — her hair surely a mess! But, at least she was still standing upright on two feet.
Perhaps she saw another mother hovering over the prized photochemical-rich greens. Maybe the woman was a little rude, not even bothering to yield a bit of space when Lucy approached.
Lucy would have seen why: clearly global freezing had depleted the stock. Though her father-in-law would have debated that, since he didn’t believe in climate change. But the knuckle-dragger had already become extinct, so what did he know anyway?
SHE HADN’T COME THIS FAR out of her way not to come home with what she came for. So, lets say, she gave the other woman a little “accidental” shove, with a polite “Oh, oops! Excuse me.” and a sing-song “Sorry!” to soften the blow. Probably the woman barely budged. So they kind of did a little semi-aggressive dance before Lucy finally got close enough to grab the very last of the kelp.
Feeling victorious for her maternal success she would have started off back home, probably envisioning how her little chimps would some day grow up to make history thanks to her by-the-book child-centered parenting style.
Of course, it’s never a good idea for a woman to forget her situational awareness when she’s out alone. Given social mores at the time, one could imagine rumors of animalistic frat boy predators lurking around the jungle alleys and getting by with unspeakable acts on women, thanks to a surplus of piggish entelodonts defending them.
From what we know, she didn’t encounter any. Scientists haven’t found evidence to suggest sexual assault. Its entirely possible she’d nearly made it home. Who knows? It could be that suddenly she thought she heard the familiar catcalls of one of those he-man hyena-wanna-be dinocrocutas. Or was it a whole pack of them?! Her cognitive function wasn’t genius, but, hey, she wasn’t stupid either. After all, she was an early version of us. She wouldn’t have waited to find out. Though experts don’t even agree that a fall is what killed her, what they do agree on is that she could climb. So, it doesn’t take much to imagine her stealthily scrambling a hundred feet up the nearest Epipremnum tree.
What if, unfortunately, she guessed wrong? What if it turns out they weren’t the terrestrial bound scavengers she’d heard? But rather a pack of thylacosmilus. This would not have been good. They were sly creatures, stubborn, skittish and anti-social. Worst of all they, too, of course, could climb trees. Can’t all felines?
OH! IF LUCY HAD JUST KNOWN they were actually just pussycats. Sure, they looked fierce, but those saber teeth didn’t have much bite to them.
It might not have mattered until too late, even if she did. After a high-up-in-the canopy cat v chimp-human fight, the Kappelman’s evidence does support a scenario that finds Lucy losing her balance and plunging to the ground. Probably she was breaking through branches all the way down.
IT GOES WITHOUT SAYING that her landing wouldn’t have been pretty. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to imagine her, falling from that far up, being drilled pretty deep into the terra-firma. With her many cracked bones boring a meteor-like crater in the Miocene-age forest floor.
All that kelp, we could deduce, not only had helped her children’s attempts at survival of the fittest, but would have been building up her bones, too. (Always important since woman are prone to bone-brittling osteoporosis.) That might also explain, then, how they remained largely intact for over 3 million years. So they could be found by Richard_Leakey’s rival, Donald_Johanson, who named his prehistoric find “Lucy” after the 60s pop song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.”
Now, isn’t that narrative more fitting for our genealogical gem?
Copyright 2016 Andrea Morisette Grazzini