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Nickname: Lucy's species

Where Lived: Eastern Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania)



When Lived: Between about 3.85 and 2.95 million years ago

Australopithecus afarensis is one of the longest-lived and best-known early human species—paleoanthropologists have uncovered remains from more than 300 individuals! Found between 3.85 and 2.95 million years ago in Eastern Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania), this species survived for more than 900,000 years, which is over four times as long as our own species has been around. It is best known from the sites of Hadar, Ethiopia (‘Lucy’, AL 288-1 and the 'First Family', AL 333); Dikika, Ethiopia (Dikika ‘child’ skeleton); and Laetoli (fossils of this species plus the oldest documented bipedal footprint trails).

Similar to chimpanzees, Au. afarensis children grew rapidly after birth and reached adulthood earlier than modern humans. This meant A. afarensis had a shorter period of growing up than modern humans have today, leaving them less time for parental guidance and socialization during childhood.

Au. afarensis had both ape and human characteristics: members of this species had apelike face proportions (a flat nose, a strongly projecting lower jaw) and braincase (with a small brain, usually less than 500 cubic centimeters -- about 1/3 the size of a modern human brain), and long, strong arms with curved fingers adapted for climbing trees. They also had small canine teeth like all other early humans, and a body that stood on two legs and regularly walked upright. Their adaptations for living both in the trees and on the ground helped them survive for almost a million years as climate and environments changed.

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© Human Origins Program

Supplier: Human Origins Program NMNH

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