Research shows that the world’s most famous early human ancestors could walk as straight as modern humans thanks to fully flexed knee joints.
‘Lucy’ is from an extinct species of ape that lived in Africa more than three million years ago.
She was dug up in Ethiopia in 1974, and at the time was the most complete ancestor of early humans known.
But it is only now that her lower limb muscles have been completely digitally reconstructed, which researchers hope will end a decades-long debate among scientists about how she walks. again.
Results from a team at the University of Cambridge, published in the Royal Society’s Open Science journal, show that Lucy was able to straighten her knees, stand up straight and walk on two legs like we do today.
But her legs were also found to be much larger and stronger than ours, allowing her to live in trees like an ape, meaning she was well-equipped to adapt to life. in open grasslands and dense forests.
The Cambridge scientists say the findings could help shed light on how physical locomotion has evolved in humans, “including the abilities we’ve lost”.
How Lucy’s leg was recreated
A team led by Dr. Ashleigh Wiseman created a 3D model of Lucy’s leg and pelvic muscles, with 36 muscles in each leg.
The major muscles in her calves and thighs were more than twice as large as in modern humans – the only remaining animal able to stand upright with straight knees.
Dr Wiseman, of Cambridge’s McDonald Institute of Archaeological Research, said: “Lucy’s ability to walk can only be known by reconstructing the path and space occupied by a muscle in the body. “
She added: “Lucy’s muscles show that she’s just as proficient on two legs as we are, while possibly also staying at home in the tree.”
Lucy’s discovery in the 1970s was monumental because her skeleton was 40% complete, with 47 of the 207 bones intact.
It included parts of her arms, legs, spine, ribs, pelvis, lower jaw, and skull.
She was found to be of the species Australopithecus afarensis, and was named for her because archaeologists found her listening to The Beatles’ Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds at the time.
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The researchers said she would have been a young man when she died, just over a meter tall and weighing less than 30kg.
Since then, some experts have suggested that she will crouch and waddling like a chimpanzee, while others believe she will move more like a human.