Ethiopia: Lucy Bones’ 3D Scans Released

Lucy’s arm bone undergoes a computed-tomography scan. (Photo: Marsha Miller/UT Austin)

Nature Magazine

Print your own 3D Lucy to work out how the famous hominin died

The world’s most famous fossil is now open source. 3D scans of Lucy — a 3.18-million-year-old hominin found in Ethiopia — were released on 29 August, allowing anyone to examine her arm, shoulder and knee bones and even make their own 3D-printed copies.

The scans accompany a Nature paper that argues that Lucy, a human relative belonging to the species Australopithecus afarensis, died after falling from a tree (J. Kappelman et al. Nature; 2016).The team behind the paper also made the scans available to the public and is eager for other researchers to test the hypothesis by printing out the bones.

“It’s one thing for me to describe it in detail in paper, but it’s another thing to hold these things, to be able to print them out, look at them and put them together,” says team leader John Kappelman, a palaeoanthropologist at the University of Texas at Austin.

His team received approval from the National Museum of Ethiopia and the country’s government to make the models of Lucy public. “My sense from the Ethiopians is that Lucy is not only their national treasure, but they see her as a treasure for humankind,” says Kappelman, who hopes that the country will soon release digital scans of the rest of Lucy and that other countries may follow suit with other hominin fossils.

“Coming from Ethiopia, it really is a positive step, because other countries that are hesitant may be willing to do the same thing,” says Louise Leakey, a palaeontologist at Stony Brook University in New York.

But Kappelman and others say that such a move could threaten cash-strapped museums — many of them in Africa — that rely on income generated from casts of their fossil collections to help them survive.

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