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French co-discoverer of ‘Lucy’ dies at 87

Coppens called himself one of Lucy's 'daddy's'

Coppens called himself one of Lucy’s ‘daddy’s’

French paleontologist Yves Coppens, credited with co-discovering the famous fossil find known as “Lucy,” died Wednesday at the age of 87 after a long illness, his publisher said.

“France has lost one of its great men,” tweeted publisher Odile Jacob, adding that in addition to his scientific skills, Coppens was also “a talented writer, storyteller and non-fiction author”.

He was part of the team, along with Maurice Taieb and Donald Johanson, that in 1974 in Hadar, Ethiopia, found the most complete remains of an Australopithecus afarensis ever discovered.

The team gave the 3.2-million-year-old female hominid “Lucy” to the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” that they listened to as they tagged the fossils.

Based on the large part of Lucy they found, 40 percent of her skeleton, the scientists were able to determine her height (one meter, 3.5 feet) and showed that she was muscular and capable of climbing trees. and walk upright.

Coppens, who was born in Brittany and the son of a nuclear physicist father, made six hominid discoveries during his career.

“When I was six or seven years old, I wanted to be an archaeologist,” Coppens told AFP in 2016. “All my vacation time was spent digging,” he added.

Coppens was admitted to the prestigious French scientific center CNRS in 1956, when he was only 22.

He started traveling to Africa from the 1960s, starting with Algeria and Chad.

He made his first major discovery in 1967, a 2.6 million year old fossil in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley.

Then in 1974 came the international expedition in Ethiopia’s Afar Triangle that would make Coppens, his friend and compatriot Taieb, and Donald Johanson, an American, world famous for the discovery of Lucy.

Coppens often referred to himself as one of Lucy’s “papas” (“papas” in French).

Long after the find, which included 52 bone fragments, scientists believed she was a direct ancestor of humanity.

But this claim is no longer widely believed, and Coppens and other paleontologists instead came to see Lucy as humanity’s distant cousin.

Later Coppens conducted excavations in Mauritania, the Philippines, Indonesia, Siberia, China and Mongolia.

Back home, he became director of the Musee de l’Homme (Museum of Humanity) in Paris, was awarded the chair of paleontology at the prestigious College de France and entered the French Academy of Sciences.

He also won several awards, was an advisor to the French government on environmental issues, and authored several books and more than a million scientific articles.

In addition to Lucy’s discovery, Coppens once told AFP, he was particularly proud of having “established an irrefutable link between the rise of humans and climate change”.

When forests gave way to savannas, humans stopped climbing trees, started walking upright and had to develop brain power to keep carnivores at bay, he said.

Did the fall of the tree kill the famous human ancestor Lucy?

© 2022 AFP

Quote: French co-discoverer of ‘Lucy’ dies aged 87 (2022, June 22) retrieved June 23, 2022 from https://phys.org/news/2022-06-french-co-discoverer-lucy-dies .html

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