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Lucy: Forty Years Later
A Reading Comprehension Passage by Common Core Texts

By Marcus A.R. Bolt

The Sunday Times

27 November, 2014

Forty years ago to the day, anthropologist Donald Johnson was digging. He dug at a quiet place in northern Ethiopia. This corner of eastern Africa was quite remote. It was not a very popular spot for people like Johnson to work. That is because the soil there was 3.2 million years old. It was older than any human remains ever found.

Johnson remembers the moment of his discovery. He remembers, “As I looked up the slopes to my left I saw bits of the skull, a chunk of jaw, a couple of vertebrae.” He knew that he had made a critical discovery. His team worked to uncover the bones. They found that the remains were more than just bits and pieces. The ancient skeleton was 40% complete. Johnson’s team was able to piece together nearly half of the bones.

That night, the team celebrated back at their camp. Their stereo blasted a popular song by The Beatles. It was called “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.” As the team listened to the song, they realized they had found a name for their discovery. She would be called “Lucy.” Lucy was the oldest human ancestor ever found.

Lucy was not quite human and not quite ape. Her brain was smaller than today’s human brain. Lucy was about as intelligent as today’s chimpanzees. However, Lucy was a hominid. This means that Lucy walked on two legs, not four. This separated her from ordinary apes. It links her closer to humans. Scientists now call her species Australopithecus afarensis.

At first, experts thought that Lucy was just a child when she died. But more study showed that Lucy was fully grown. However, Australopithecus afarensis was smaller than today’s humans. Lucy was only 3.7 feet tall and weighed only 64 pounds.

We remember Lucy today for several reasons. First, she continues to be the most important skeleton ever found. Forty percent of her remains were found. That makes her an amazingly intact fossil. Second, Lucy proved to the world that the human race came from Africa, not Europe or Asia as thought before. But perhaps most importantly, Lucy is a halfway point. She is halfway between the human species and our earliest ancestors. Despite her apelike face, small brain, and long arms suited for climbing trees, Lucy walked upright. She is a glimpse into our past. Lucy is the distant ancestor that reminds us of our species’ roots.


Anthropologist: a person who studies human society and its roots
Isolated: far away from other places, hard to reach
Critical: extremely important
Ancestor: a person from whom one is descended, like a great grandparent
Hominid: a family of animals that walk on two legs

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