Lucy the Australopithecus, Just Another Victim of Market Fluctuations

Josh Clark

Back in the day, about 3.2 million years ago, an upright hominid of the Australopithecus afarensis variety, wandered around Ethiopia. Who knows what she did -- pick berries and wrestle gazelles and the like is probably a pretty good bet. She was just trying to make her way in the big, wide, comparatively empty world that was the Pleocine epoch of the Cenozoic era.

I would say with fairly absolute certainty that as she walked around Africa, she was without any conception that in 1851, a guy named Arthur Denny would arrive in an area of the Pacific Northwest region of North America, battle local Amerindians, defeat them and found a town named Seattle after the vanquished leader, Sealth. Nor would this particular hominid have known that 158 years later, her bones would be dug from the ground where she'd fallen when she died, and laid out in a case in that very town. Were she to be privy to her future, and were the brains of Australopithecus evolved with a high enough emotional intellect, it's possible she would have been profoundly disappointed to learn that the six-month exhibit based around her failed miserably.

This hominid, Lucy, made the careers of Donald Johanson and Tom Gray, the anthropologists who found about 40 percent of her remains. Lucy -- who Gray and Johanson named after the Beatles' song, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, which played at camp that night while they partied -- proved to be the oldest human ancestor found at the time. A quick aside; the Beatles did not, in fact, name their song as an acronym for LSD. It was actually named after a crayon drawing made by John Lennon's son Julian of his classmate, Lucy O'Donnell.

Because of Lucy's legendary status even outside of academia, it was expected that she'd generate some income for the Ethiopian government with the exhibit in Seattle. But the exhibit actually lost money, about $1.25 million, the New York Times reports, thanks largely to the recession. Which means that we have officially reached the point where our economy is so in the toilet that it affects bipeds who've been dead for more than three million years. That's a bad sign.

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