Lucy Gets Disinherited

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Excerpt In the 1970’s, an earth-shaking discovery of a fossil was made in Ethiopia. The fossil was of a young female who appeared to bear anatomical similarities to both modern humans and chimpanzees. Dated to 3.2 million years ago and popularly named “Lucy,” she was at once decreed to be the missing link between modern humans (Homo sapiens) and our evolutionary ancestors... Continue reading

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In the 1970’s, an earth-shaking discovery of a fossil was made in Ethiopia. The fossil was of a young female who appeared to bear anatomical similarities to both modern humans and chimpanzees. Dated to 3.2 million years ago and popularly named “Lucy,” she was at once decreed to be the missing link between modern humans (Homo sapiens) and our evolutionary ancestors.

Scientifically, she was assigned to the species Australopithecus afarensis, and, soon after, the remains of several other individuals of Lucy’s species were found in the same area. It soon became scientific dogma that A. afarensis branched off into two evolutionary paths: once that led to humans, and one that led to Australopithecus robustus, which eventually died out (Bower 2007: 230). “However,” reports the journal Science News,

“an analysis of A. afarensis jaw from a skull discovered in 2002 near Lucy’s site in Ethiopia supports a long-standing minority viewpoint that Lucy’s kind occupied only a side branch of human evolution. A. afarensis evolved into the relatively small-brained, large-jawed robust australopithecines but didn’t contribute to the evolution of modern people, says anthropologist Yoel Rak of Tel Aviv University” (Ibid.).

Rak and his colleagues studied the size and shape of the ramus, a horizontal bone that connects the lower jaw to the upper one, and found that the ramus found in Lucy, in A. robustus, and in modern gorillas “looks much the same” (Ibid.). Rak’s team asserts that all other primates—including chimpanzees and fossil hominids that some believe to be direct human ancestors—share a ramus configuration different from the one possessed by Lucy, A. robustus, and today’s gorillas. According to Rak, these findings “cast doubt on the role of A. afarensis [Lucy] as a modern human ancestor” (Ibid.).

Rak and his team studied 146 jaws from 41 humans, 31 gorillas, 29 pygmy chimpanzees, 29 common chimpanzees, and 16 orangutans. They then used a computer program to calculate an average ramus contour for each species group, and found that people, chimpanzees, and orangutans all displayed a similar contour. They further saw that the ramus of a recently unearthed A. afarensis jaw, in addition to the ramus bones of partial jaws of the same species excavated earlier, “closely resembles that of the gorilla, Rak says….Two A. robustus specimens that retain part of the ramus also show a gorilla-like pattern, the investigators hold” (Ibid.).

The team further discovered that fossilized jaws from hominids called Ardipithecus ramidus, which are believed to be mankind’s evolutionary ancestors from 4.5 million years ago, as well as the jaws from ancient Homo species (also believed to lie in our evolutionary ancestry), “display a ramus configuration like that of modern chimps” (Ibid.). Rak concludes that Lucy’s species evolved a gorilla-like ramus independently, and passed this trait on to A. robustus, not the Homo sapiens (Ibid.).

Not all paleontologists and anthropologists agree with Rak, but that is the nature of the science of human origins. A discovery is made, it is sensationalized, and then it is touted as irrefutable evidence for one scientist’s—or one group of scientists’—preferred theory of human origins. The find remains controversial for decades, before another discovery comes along and knocks it from its throne.

Bower, B. 2007. “Disinherited Ancestor.” Science News 171, no. 15.


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Comments Comment RSS

5/23/2009 3:55 AM #

Nice, succint statement.  Thank you, Stephen Caesar.
I spent about a year on "Before the Bible" studies.  I think it was 1995.  Modern studies of human evolution especially are so full of, as you say, sensationalism, special pleading, stretches of the imagination.  One of these finds makes its debut, is glamorized, is put on the shelf of certainty, gets covered in National Geographic, and then is shown to be very mundane, a gorilla in the mist.  Christians can say with confidence, "just wait long enough and these discoveries will be reburied by some new, equally sensational claim.  The Word of God stands firm, unchanged!

James R. Battenfield - 5/23/2009 3:55:07 AM

3/2/2010 11:26 PM #

Bible-oriented believers overlook two major things:  first, the theory of Evolution is a theory, a suggestion, an idea of how or why something is or became.  It is not written in stone, it does not claim to be a monolithic, unchangeable law.  Secondly, humanoid fossil reconstructions are often based on fragments of bones, a few teeth, part of a jaw, etc.  Jawbones are particularly prized because dentition patterns help place the specimen in a general category:  lemurs, siamangs, gorillas, etc.  I personally have no problem believing humans evolved from homonid prececessors.  When you think of it, it is wonderful to see the prehistoric creatures such as dinosaurs, that undeniably existed, as part of God's creation.  Why they were created and why things evolved are metaphysical questions to which there may never be answers.  Perhaps the "whys" are beyond current human comprehension.  Attempts to investigate these things are much more practical than simply insisting that things are as they are because they are, or because of a Biblical quotation.  It is religion that slams the door on paleontology, not vice versa.  Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but it is better to attempt to learn, win or lose, rather than blindly insist on religious teachings just "because."  God ordered man "to increase," and that includes increasing knowledge, however difficult that may be.

Joyce Bartels - 3/2/2010 11:26:51 PM

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