Sunday, 4 November 2012

Australopithecus Afarensis

While away on holiday on the Cotswolds, I was able to use the 16-inch digital TV that I'd bought for my 'Christmas-in-Cornwall' trip in 2010. This TV was originally intended to be used with a satellite dish, but the experiment was a failure. However, I remembered that the Caravan Club site at Cirencester had a TV socket on the hookup post for my pitch, and so I raided my attic, dug out the TV, and took it with me on holiday. It proved to be a boon. I missed nothing that I wanted to watch.

In particular I wanted to see the final of three programmes called Prehistoric Autopsy on BBC2 presented by Dr Alice Roberts. The team at Glasgow University were reconstructing the physical appearance of three prehistoric humans or pre-humans from their fossil skeleton remains, using all the very latest techniques. On the first evening, it had been a Neanderthal man; on the second, a Homo Erectus boy; and now, on the third evening, an Australopithecus Afarensis woman famously christened Lucy. This lady lived over three million years ago. Her kind had not long left the forest to venture out onto the savanna. But she walked upright. Her Latin species name means 'Southern ape from Afar', Afar being an arid place in Ethiopia.

They made a remarkable job of the reconstruction. Here's the unveiling (my shots were taken straight off the TV screen in the caravan):

I found this encounter with such an ancient person profoundly touching and moving.

She was so small, hardly larger than a small modern human child, and yet Lucy was aged about twenty and had probably had more than one baby. The team tried to be resolute about not 'humanising' her in the reconstruction, but I think there is something in her eyes that screams 'human being in the making'. You feel that even if she couldn't talk, she would be capable of expressive noises and certainly expressive gestures, making communication possible and meaningful. Mind you, had she come to life before the cameras, surrounded by all those so-much-larger people, she would have been bewildered and terrified.

Lucy and the two other reconstructions are going on tour around the country over the next year. I will try hard to see them somewhere.


  1. If you believe in such things Lucy. I have a post coming up in a day or two wherein is mentioned (in the video) something about genes. You may find it interesting.

    Shirley Anne x

  2. That does indeed sound fascinating, Lucy : I just looked it up on the iplayer, but unfortunatley couldn't find it.

  3. have just seen the programme and those last images of Lucy 's face were so alive and she is so beautiful with a wistful look. A fantastic programme and the work of those model makers was outstanding. Can;t wait to see more pictures of her and thanks to everyone for such a marvellous series.


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