Battle of the Bones

Lucy is Cleveland's most famous contribution to science. But a brawl has erupted over whether she's truly the mother of us all.

The Hangdogs Beachland Tuesday, September 19
In the Hall of Man at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History stands a little lady who once smacked a young science upside the head. Internationally, she's known as Lucy, but her most ardent admirers know her as AL-288-1.

Lucy is a 3.2-million-year-old fossil. Her three-and-a-half-foot-tall partial skeleton has been reconstructed to capture her in midstride, with long arms swinging loosely. She looks jaunty, relaxed, ready to take on all comers. And for good reason.

When an expedition from the Cleveland museum unearthed Lucy in Ethiopia in 1974, she became one of the most important scientific discoveries of the last century. Lucy was then the oldest and most complete human ancestor ever found. The day she died in an African pond became the furthest point back in time to which humankind could look for an explanation of its origins.

Lucy told us more about who we are and how we evolved than anyone ever had. For that she was christened the Mother of Humankind and became a bit of a pop-culture hero. Unlike most anthropological finds, Lucy wasn't destined to spend the rest of her days being discussed in arcane journals. She became the ambassador of modern evolutionary science, a skeletal celebrity who began showing up on T-shirts and tattoos. She catapulted her discoverer to worldwide prominence. And since a Cleveland team was responsible for the find, northern Ohio has basked in Lucy's reflected glory ever since.

During the past quarter-century, Lucy's star has barely dimmed, even though other ancestors have been discovered, some dating back 4.4 million years. She remains the flashpoint for debate on the origins of humankind and is still considered by many to be "the mother of us all."

But now, from across the planet in South Africa, an upstart Kansan is contesting Lucy's matriarchy. He believes his own discovery may not only dethrone Lucy, but prove that we've misunderstood our family tree all along. The brawl that's ensued is getting downright ugly, replete with accusations and counter-accusations, threats of litigation, and a brand of mudslinging one wouldn't expect from the seemingly decorous scientific world.

Most folks think of evolution as a valiant, purposeful progression, an orderly series of "improvements" that raised us up from the lowly chimp to the pinnacle of ultimate "Survivor" Richard Hatch.

Not so.

Evolution is not a neat, orderly stair climb, but a random series of mutations and adaptations.

Here's what we seem to know: About 5 or 6 million years ago, one species of ape split in two directions. One lineage slowly and haphazardly adapted to fruit-filled rain forests and became chimpanzees. The other line slowly and haphazardly adapted to just about everywhere else and formed the many-branched family tree of hominids, or walking apes. From that tangled limb, we are the lucky survivors. With such a short separation, people and Bonzo share more genes in common than a horse and a zebra.

The closest human ancestors are called Homo erectus. About 1.8 million years ago, they began spreading from Africa to most of Europe and Asia. Their bodies were stronger versions of ours, though housing smaller brains. They were close enough, however, to spur vigorous debate over when and where this species turned into us.

As Darwin predicted, the oldest and most apelike of early human ancestors lived in Africa. Since the first fossil discovery there in 1924, the continent has yielded 12 to 16 species, depending upon who's doing the counting.

The biological definition of a species is a group of individuals that cannot breed with another species and produce fertile offspring. So naming species from fossils is a tricky business, coming down to the shape of jaws and teeth, the size of the cranium, the curve of a limb bone. Setting up some sort of genealogical relationship over millions of years is even trickier. But that doesn't stop people from trying.

From 1925 through 1973, Africa's rocks and caves revealed an enigmatic bunch. From the south, there was Australopithecus africanus, which lived from 2.8 million until 2.3 million years ago, and Australopithecus robustus, with huge molars and a crest along the skull to anchor powerful chewing muscles. They appeared 1.9 million years ago and disappeared a million years ago.

In eastern Africa, the finds included Australopithecus boisei, another chewing machine, and its contemporary Homo habilis, at 2.4 million years old a still-contested candidate for the first member of our own genus.

Here's where Lucy comes in.

In 1973, Don Johanson was a newly minted Ph.D., an anthropology instructor at Case Western Reserve University, and a curator at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History. He and a French team led a joint expedition to Hadar, Ethiopia, where Johanson found a complete knee joint, indicating an upright creature. The next year, he found Lucy. The third year, the team uncovered "the First Family," a group of at least 13 individuals who died together.

At the time, they were the oldest and most complete hominid remains ever found. Lucy's skeleton is 23 percent complete, which doesn't sound like much, but we're talking quality, not quantity. What was preserved, including leg, arm, and pelvic bones, provided the best picture yet of how these early ancestors moved. C. Owen Lovejoy of Kent State University was the first to look at the skeleton and the other bones, and he concluded that the creatures walked upright, as we do, instead of knuckle-walking, as apes do. Footprints in volcanic ash from the same time period confirm that this is so.

With the fossils on loan to Cleveland for five years from the Ethiopian government, Johanson joined forces with Tim White of the University of California at Berkeley. The latter, who had worked with the legendary Mary Leakey in Tanzania, showed Johanson that some fossil jawbones matched those from Ethiopia. In 1978 Johanson and White named the new species Australopithecus afarensis (after the Afar Triangle region). The creatures appeared 3.9 million years ago and enjoyed a 900,000-year run.

With the discovery carrying them that far back in time, the pair decided that perhaps they could finally bring some order to the jumble of species that had already been unearthed across Africa. It was an ambitious conclusion -- that Lucy and her family were a significant enough find that they could provide the cornerstone for reconstructing unknown centuries of human history.

Johanson and White eventually distilled and published their now famous theory that Lucy's people were our oldest known ancestors at the base of a Y-shaped family tree. One branch led to the two South African species that eventually fell to extinction. The other led to us.

Not only was Lucy a major find, she did a great deal for Cleveland. In the 26 years since her uncovering, the city baptized itself the birthplace of rock and roll. Though "Cleveland bones!" doesn't make for the best of marketing slogans, the region can reasonably argue that it has become one of America's premier centers for fossil study.

"The northern Ohio area in general has been known for lots of years as a key place for the study of human origins," says Berkeley's Tim White, among the superstars of fossil hunting.

The Museum of Natural History's Hamann-Todd Collection has 3,100 human skeletons and more than 900 African ape skulls and skeletons, and is the largest assemblage of its kind in the world. Some 200 scholars visit each year for medical and evolutionary research.

The museum and Kent State University together house the Midwest's largest collection of pre-human fossil replicas. Moreover, Kent's C. Owen Lovejoy and the museum's Bruce Latimer are regarded as top scholars in the field, routinely called in for their advice on new finds. Lovejoy's rumbling baritone has been heard on NOVA and BBC specials.

Today, Latimer is curator of physical anthropology at the museum, Johanson's old spot. He also directs the biological anthropology department in Case Western's medical school.

In his office is a chest-high safe with doors a half-foot thick. This is a sacred place, where the fossils of Lucy and the First Family once rested. When the five-year loan agreement expired, Johanson returned the bones to Ethiopia. What remains are replicas, painted down to the slight pink tinge in Lucy's molars, filling their slots in custom-cut foam cushions. Under even stricter lock and key are the first plaster casts made of the bones, in case the originals in Ethiopia somehow get lost or destroyed.

Lucy's still doing fine, thank you.

But you might not get that impression from Lee R. Berger, a young paleoanthropologist with a gift for self-promotion, breathless prose, and an extraordinary talent for uniting scientists who no longer speak to each other -- if only because they agree that Berger's a lightweight who puts politics before science.

Berger grew up in rural Georgia with a love of its ancient Native American sites. He moved to South Africa in 1989. At the University of the Witwatersrand, or Wits, he studied under the venerated Phillip V. Tobias. In short order, Berger discovered the country's first new cave to yield hominids in 44 years, and his flair for fund-raising and publicity attracted the National Geographic Society and other donors. Following Tobias's 1996 retirement, Berger was appointed the third director of paleoanthropological research in the school's history.

Whether on PBS or on the phone, he is engaging, often answering questions with a chuckle. He carries an infectious enthusiasm for Africa and his field; his favorite word seems to be "vibrant."

"I have had the privilege of being in the midst of an emergent South Africa," he says from his home in Johannesburg. "There has been a refocus on the research here. It's been largely ignored."

Berger's thesis is that the South African branch of the Y-shaped tree -- the one that supposedly fell to extinction -- may well be the branch that led to today's people, and that his adopted home is the more likely launching pad of humankind. This means East Africa, and Cleveland's famous discovery, would be the dead end.

So Berger wrote a book, In the Footsteps of Eve. It arrived in June, along with a 10-city U.S. tour. It's not your standard weighty academic text. This is a brisk, entertaining read, a style that speaks to another of Berger's core missions: "I'm trying to bring a science that is often pulled away from people to people."

If the tone appears light, however, the message is anything but. In print, Berger aspires to a lofty purpose, revealed through grand phrases such as "force a revision of our understanding of human evolution."

What needs to be understood, Berger says, is that his adopted country could be the true cradle of humankind. "There is an undeniable and real focus on East African fossils," he says. "I'm not attacking my colleagues. I'm pointing out there's fantastic fossil evidence down here that needs to be included in a more vibrant way in our fossil interpretations. All I'm saying is, it's complex."

This seems innocuous enough. In fact, the only one who appears to believe an East Africa-South Africa rivalry exists is Berger.

But it's not his central thesis that's creating so much heat. It's the way he's gone about asserting it that other scientists find so irksome. As Berger grandly notes, his theory will "convince my colleagues around the world that they'd all been wrong in their understanding of early human evolution."

It goes like this: South Africa's A. africanus lived some 200,000 years after A. afarensis, Lucy's species. But Berger noticed africanus had slightly longer arms and really big shoulders, compared to its squat legs. At the same time, its brain was a bit bigger, and its teeth were more "modern."

Furthermore, there exist two broken, scrappy skeletons from a later period, when humankind started the crossover from an ape-man species to something more closely resembling today's people. The arms look pretty long, but it's hard to tell.

To those of us with a high-school level of scientific comprehension, such matters may seem better left to guys with microscopes. But Berger thinks his theory has dramatic implications for those who study these things. If we did evolve from the South African species, it throws off-kilter any previous understanding of our origins.

"Lucy may well have to relinquish her position as the mother of us all," Berger proclaims. Berger's not insisting this is all true, by the way. "I was posing a question," he says of his book.

But faster than you can say, "So what?" this zippy read has attracted threats of defamation lawsuits from researchers in East Africa and even from within Berger's own university.

Early in his career, Berger recalls solemnly, "I resolved not to take sides in any departmental rivalry and privately pledged my loyalties to the science as a whole."

In many ways, he sees himself as an innocent -- albeit cheerful -- victim of his own quest for truth. He fashions himself as the bearer of objectivity, the scientist unwilling to engage in the petty frays of his field.

"I take on White and Johanson with humility," he writes. "As a former disciple, I'm grateful for what they -- and my other mentors, Phillip Tobias and Richard Leakey -- have taught me."

Herein lies the contradiction. Though he stakes a position of humble supplication, Berger appears unable to resist firing rounds at the biggest names in the field. He christens Tim White the "Great White Shark . . . because of his aggressive intellect and inquisitor's mind." He repeats an anonymous co-worker's accusation that "Tobias eats his young," meaning his students. The famed Richard Leakey is a "virulent force in the profession."

Nor has Berger steered clear of departmental rivalries. The scientist dumped eminent fossil finder Ron Clarke from his Wits university post in 1998 -- just as he was uncovering a near-complete skeleton, the greatest find in university history.

A subsequent Johannesburg Sunday Times editorial cartoon included Berger's move among the "bloopers of the century," alongside a Decca Records executive telling the Beatles, "Guitar bands are on the way out."

In the book, Berger offers an uncomplimentary version of Clarke's early career and the firing. Clarke says it's all "lies" and is contemplating a defamation suit.

Equally telling is that former mentor Tobias is considering "legal counsel"; Berger writes in his book that the elder scientist "engineered a coup" against him over the Clarke episode.

All of which has left Berger to preside over half of a divided empire.

He is director of PURE -- Paleoanthropological Unit for Research and Education -- which as of mid-August moved from the Wits medical school, where the fossils still reside. Recently, the university had to force the anatomy department director to give Berger keys to the fossil safe and 24-hour access.

Still, Clarke and Tobias, neither technically employed by Wits, hold the permit for the cave that houses Clarke's emerging skeleton. So Berger must run excavations of his own elsewhere. A foundation director told a South African newspaper that the infighting has started to scare off donors. It has also solidified Berger's reputation as a researcher who besmirches his friends to further his ambitions.

Berger's disputes involve more than conflicts of ego and name-calling, however. He is also raising hackles, and potential litigation, over what others deem his slovenly science. Count Berkeley's White among the colleagues contemplating legal action.

To the unschooled, White's beef may appear trivial. Berger's act of war was to characterize a 1998 find by White's team as "undescribed."

In the peculiar community of anthropology, however, this is a major slam. In essence, "undescribed" means that, until the discoverer publishes a formal anatomic description, the find isn't on the scientific map. It also can imply that the discoverer is hiding his find so that others can't study it, or that he just hasn't done the work necessary for publishing.

This, in turn, means that foundations may be reluctant to fund additional expeditions.

But there's a significant problem with Berger's allegation. That's because White's team did publish its description in April 1999. "It damages my reputation to be characterized as someone who is actively hiding fossils," White says.

Henry McHenry, who collaborated with Berger on a research project, hints that White is "overreacting," since Berger did mention "preliminary accounts."

But even McHenry, the colleague Berger portrays most favorably, is a bit "disturbed" by what he reads in both books and articles. The extremely soft-spoken University of California-Davis professor worked with Berger on two scientific papers.

In 1998, McHenry read a draft of a National Geographic article that Berger prepared on their research. "I was appalled at the way he invented a story and put words in my mouth," he says.

McHenry, who received a copy of In the Footsteps of Eve autographed to "a good friend and inspiration," says both article and book oversimplify the work, making suggestions sound like firm conclusions.

"It's a little too bad," he says. "If he'd sent it to colleagues and had the glitches worked out . . . "

Others point out that Footsteps contains more than mere glitches. The book is riddled with errors.

"It's the most poorly edited book I think I've ever read," says Cleveland's Latimer, having cleared space among the mounds on his desk for a two-page longhand list of errors.

Critics say Berger's book is rife with errors in measurements, species names, places, and dates. Geographical descriptions are butchered, scholars placed at the wrong universities. Worse, from the provincial vantage point, is that Cleveland is dissed. Berger writes that Johanson took his collection from the Lucy find to California for study.

Perhaps emblematic of Berger's personality, and why his peers dislike him so, is a scene he describes two-thirds of the way into Footsteps.

As Berger casts it, he and Tobias had written a short paper. Ohio's Latimer and Lovejoy just happened to be in South Africa, part of a large group dubbed the "Dream Team" visiting Wits to examine fossils at the time. The Ohio men considered the paper bad science.

In gasping prose, Berger describes the incident as intensely as any courtroom drama.

"I felt uneasy as I took up my chair," he writes. "It was judgment day . . . [Latimer] had the air of a determined prosecutor intent on putting someone away for a long, long time. It became clear that the Dream Team had rehearsed this scenario . . . I began to feel more like a heretical young priest appearing before an inquisition trial in the Middle Ages . . . Taking a slow, deep breath, I began my argument."

They debated for hours about joint curves and ligament attachments.

Berger recalls a "sense of triumph" after the debate, himself the lone wolf taking on the titans of anthropology and battling them to a draw.

Yet members of the "Dream Team" describe this version as fiction.

Here's how Lovejoy recalls the debate: ". . . We took out the paper and [point by point] we said, 'Why'd you say this?' Each time he wouldn't have an answer. Finally he said, 'Okay, you're right.'"

White says Maeve Leakey, a neutral party, concluded that Berger's fossil was so badly damaged one couldn't tell anything conclusive about it. This doesn't show up in the book.

More important, the bones, according to Latimer, would blend perfectly with the First Family collection, leaving nothing concrete to alter Lucy's status.

Latimer says the whole meeting was more "fun" than portrayed and certainly not rehearsed. "We didn't even know we were going to see him. He happened to be there."

Personalities aside, the criticism of Berger boils down to this: The guy's discoveries just aren't fresh.

One of the advisers who oversaw Berger's 1994 doctoral dissertation in South Africa -- Jeffrey K. McKee, who moved to Ohio State University four years ago -- says he paged through Footsteps in a bookstore, but set it back down. "Most of what I saw was fiction."

He asks students to "rip apart" the original research published by McHenry and Berger: "My graduate students can see through their arguments."

Colleagues say Berger has yet to uncloak any appreciable differences between the South African fossils and Lucy's kind. He's discovered few new remains on his own thus far, relying instead on what's in the Wits safe. And, even if Berger eventually does undercut Lucy's place as the matriarch of humankind, "So be it," says Johanson, who since leaving Cleveland founded and directs the Institute of Human Origins, affiliated with Arizona State University.

So when other scientists look at Berger's argument, they say he's merely trying to manufacture drama.

"It's wishful thinking," Johanson says. "Just about everyone who has looked at this says it's wishful thinking."

Berger's "a fun guy to have a beer with," Latimer says, flashing one of his frequent toothy grins. "He's pretty young and exceedingly ambitious. I'm unimpressed with his science to date."

Latimer says he and his colleagues dismiss Berger's argument only after going over the data. "These are well-known, world-famous scientists. He gives the impression they're defending their case not because of the science, but because of their personalities."

Likewise, his opponents suggest Berger frames his theory as a rivalry between eastern and southern African fossils to enhance his own standing in his university and country. Looky here, is the message, I'm bringing you attention.

"He's trying to create a war that doesn't exist between South Africa and East Africa," White says. "It's done for political purposes."

Berger expected this. He wrote that his theories would cause "vociferous opposition" from the paleoanthropology powerhouses. It seems he welcomed it; opposition has made people famous.

Cheerfully, Berger stands by his words. "I think [the book] speaks for itself," he says. "I don't think there's any antagonism there.

"This science is enormously exciting, enormously vibrant. It's a shame people look to the negative of the science."

He concedes the book's basic errors involving names and dates, but attributes them to standard problems inherent in publishing. "That happens in the first edition, I think.

"I'm just putting forth what's there. It's not the most comfortable thing in the world, but it's not antagonistic."

You can almost hear Berger smiling through the transoceanic wire: "We're studying humans. People feel more poignantly attached to it. People like Tim and Owen and Bruce are fantastic scientists. Things get hotly contested."

There also remains this question: If Berger is such a minor leaguer, why do his dismissive colleagues have so much to say about his book?

Some of the criticism involves money. A good professional reputation takes decades to achieve. If a foundation official read Berger's attacks on his colleagues, without the benefit of rebuttal, expedition money could well dry up. There's also the concern that Berger's book, written to be more accessible than the standard academic text, may be a reader's first introduction to the field -- and an error-filled one, at that.

One can't help but get the impression that peers see Berger as an inferior scientist, who's nonetheless landing plum National Geographic assignments, 10-city book tours, and gobs of press attention.

From his 10 years in South Africa, Ohio State's McKee remembers two main characteristics about his former student: His raw writing needed a lot of editing, and "From day one he wanted to take over."

White is especially dismayed by Berger's style, which he thinks represents a larger trend. The science, he says, "is seriously damaged by this rise of careerism and the sort of naked politics being played."

As is his custom, Berger sees the fight in more romantic terms, assuming the role of good guy taking on the establishment: "Do you ever feel at the root of this, that people don't like to make this science accessible?"

The Berger brouhaha is just the latest in a century of paleoanthropologists wielding fossilized jawbones against perceived philistines. There are some memorable donnybrooks to look back to, recounted in books like Johanson's Lucy, Richard Leakey's Origins Reconsidered, or journalist Roger Lewin's Bones of Contention. Sir Grafton Elliott Smith and Sir Arthur Keith, leaders of British paleoanthropology early in the century, recommended Raymond Dart to head the anatomy department at Wits's medical school. When he turned up a child's small-brained skull and named it A. africanus in 1925, they publicly spoke of his intellectual and emotional weaknesses. Keith admitted he was wrong 22 years later.

Despite some later wacky theories, Dart is a hero in the profession.

Meanwhile, Smith and Keith themselves fell out over interpreting Piltdown Man, a British scientific gem discovered in 1912 that was eventually unmasked as a fraud 40 years later. No one has solved the mystery of the forgery, but the suspects include two scientists who intensely hated Keith and Sir Arthur Smith Woodward. The latter first studied the find and wasted decades of his career fruitlessly searching for more specimens.

Keith's most famous student, Louis Leakey, and his family are legendary. His wife, Mary, son Richard, and Richard's zoologist wife, Maeve Leakey, all made spectacular finds. But colleagues paint the Leakeys all as spectacular characters -- except Maeve, the nice one. At one point or another, everyone in the family was fighting: Richard with each parent, Louis and Mary with each other. A lot of rivals used to needle Richard for having no academic degree, despite his skill in organizing expeditions.

The Leakeys were at first close friends with White, who worked on Mary's team, and Johanson, who visited on his way to and from early expeditions. During campfire debates, Mary would tell them, "That's right; stick to your guns." Before the trip that yielded Lucy, Johanson bet Richard a bottle of wine he would find older fossils than his.

The family vehemently disagreed with White and Johanson over the Lucy find. The idea of placing this small-brained creature at the base of the family tree was abhorrent to the Leakeys, who wanted to prove a large brain evolved millions of years earlier. Mary Leakey called Johanson and White "not very scientific"; Johanson shot back that paleoanthropology's matriarch "really shows a poor appreciation of what evolution is all about." When she retired, it galled her that Johanson and White started working her stomping grounds at Olduvai Gorge. Johanson won the bet, but never got his bottle of wine.

Since those days, the seemingly inseparable White and Johanson have also parted ways. They'd rather not talk about it.

"Tim is a very sweet person in some contexts, but he is a great white shark in others," McHenry says. "He's turned his rage on so many people. I've seen it at meetings. I can list a lot of people he's attacked."

Yet even though the Berger slugfest matches those historic fights in terms of vitriol, Clarke is quick to distinguish its lack of scientific import.

"Sir Arthur Keith was an eminent scientist," Clarke says. "Louis Leakey was a charismatic personality. But also he had a brain . . . Tim White would not write a book telling lies about Don Johanson.

"Where are the discoveries Berger has made? He's written a book based on other people's discoveries, and he's misinterpreting or misrepresenting what they've written."

"For some reason, paleoanthropology attracts a lot of strong personalities," says McKee at Ohio State. "The rest of us just go about doing our work and disagreeing at meetings, and then go out and have a beer with the people we disagree with."

Nor are battles particularly unusual in any realm of science. Latimer tells the story of renowned evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson. At one conference, a rival dumped a pitcher of ice water on his head.

By contrast, the fossil-hunters seem tame. They give insult, for example, by refusing to put a rival's name for a species in italics. Write about Homo habilis instead of Homo habilis, and you were sure to inspire a stern letter from a Leakey.

All of which has anthropologists expressing their greatest fear: that Berger's needlessly combative book will obscure an important field.

Randall Susman, anatomy professor at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, says his colleagues should just ignore the book.

"It's like third grade, when somebody defames your lunch and you'll sue. In our field, the principle seems to hold that negative attention is better than none.

"So many of these books just stir up the mud, and they don't have to, because [the science is] intrinsically interesting."

When these guys look at bones, they're seeing whole stories -- how bone density might indicate the strength or heavy use of a limb; how the shape of a vertebra determines posture or hints at nerve connections.

So they ask the bones questions: How did these creatures walk? What did they eat? How much time did they spend in trees? Can we tell gender from a skeleton, and was there a great size difference between males and females? If there is, does that mean the males had harems like gorillas?

They also think about the environment of five or so million years ago. The weather was drying up, and rain forests were shrinking. What could an animal do to increase its chances for more offspring? How would that strategy incorporate all the other changes that show up step by step in the fossils -- first walking, then tools, then bigger brains?

Despite the 99 percent of our DNA that we share with chimps, we are quite different animals. We are, for instance, the only primate without a clearly defined breeding season, other than closing time at the Flats. Nor do women's butts turn red when they ovulate.

Kent State's Lovejoy has developed a theory that connects a lot of these questions -- mating, walking, social structure -- into a strategy for why Lucy's kind could presumably bear more babies than an ape. And he has a lot of detractors. But they still respect his knowledge and focus on function.

This shouldn't be confused with universal cheer, however. Kent State's Lovejoy says 90 percent of paleoanthropologists could be accused of scientific "malpractice" -- including McHenry and Susman.

"I will argue that human paleoanthropology is the most difficult of all sciences," he says, but the public and most of the people who enter the field think they understand human evolution simply "because they are human." It's not enough to "look at bones and make up stories."

The past 30 years have brought advances in the studies of mammal movement, genetics, ecology, even orthopedic surgery, says Lovejoy, who also teaches in the orthopedics department at Case Western's medical school. All of these have a bearing on human evolution.

"The anthropologists have watched it go by like a car," he says. "Anthropologists tend to read stuff written by other anthropologists. That's one of the reasons it's a dead science.

"There's a vast supply of knowledge with which to interpret the fossil record, and almost none of it is being used."

This is why Lucy remains safe, even if one day we no longer call her great-grandma. Secretive little lady that she is, she still gives us so much to fight about.

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