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Creation 38(4):12–13, October 2016

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Lucy’s Baboon Backbone


Lucys-baboon-backboneMain image © 123rf.com/JohnnyLye

The famous ‘Lucy’ (Australopithecus afarensis) has long been an icon of evolution, portrayed in museums and textbooks as an upright-walking ape-woman, ‘dated’ to about 3.2 million years old. Now, over 40 years after her initial discovery in Ethiopia, paleoanthropologists have found that one of Lucy’s bones does not actually belong to her, but to a baboon.

These scientists from the American Museum of Natural History in New York and New York University were collaborating on a fresh reconstruction of Lucy’s skeleton. But they realized that one of the bones in her spine seemed out of place—it was too small compared to the rest of her spinal column.1 Further investigation revealed that this bone was more weathered than, and had a different texture from, the rest of her vertebrae—something Lucy’s discoverer, Donald Johanson, had noted when first describing the skeleton.2

This texture difference was overlooked for decades because most scientists are only allowed to work with casts of Lucy’s bones, which lack some of the details of the originals. But, after becoming suspicious, one of the researchers, together with vertebral specialist Marc Meyer from Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga, California, compared the bone in question to the vertebrae of other animals. They soon concluded that it most likely belonged to an extinct species of baboon.

What’s the significance?


While this bone was not particularly crucial in determining Lucy’s posture or locomotion, let alone her status as a supposed human ancestor, that does not make this revision insignificant. The fact that this bone was incorrectly assigned to Lucy for 40 years doesn’t inspire much confidence that evolutionists are drawing the right conclusions about human origins elsewhere.

When reading reports on this discovery, one gets the sense that evolutionists are engaging in damage control. They reassure the public with statements like, “the mislabelled baboon bone fragment doesn’t undermine Lucy’s important position in the evolution of our lineage.”1 And they attempt to put a positive spin on this news, saying, “This is how science progresses; we don’t leave things unexamined.”2 Except, there are plenty of basic assumptions evolutionists are not willing to examine, like the naturalistic evolutionary paradigm itself.

In reality, Lucy’s borrowed bit of baboon backbone illustrates how easy it is, even for trained scientists, to make mistakes when reconstructing the past. What is claimed to be settled science today can be overthrown tomorrow. This is especially true when it comes to historical science—the method of piecing together the unobservable, unrepeatable past from limited, circumstantial clues in the present.3 Claims about ape-men (and ape-women), in particular, are often based on partial or fragmentary remains which lend themselves to a wide variety of interpretations. This misidentified backbone is a good reminder of why, when we’re seeking to discover the true history of the world, our final authority should be the eyewitness, infallible record of God-breathed Scripture rather than the opinions of fallible men.

References and notes

  1. Barras, C., Baboon bone found in famous Lucy skeleton, newscientist.com, 10 April 2015. Return to text.
  2. van Hilten, L.G., Why Lucy’s baboon bone is great for science (and evolutionary theory), elsevier.com, 15 June 2015. Return to text.
  3. Batten, D., ‘It’s not science, 18 September 2014; creation.com/its-not-science. Return to text.

Helpful Resources

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Contested Bones
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Readers’ comments

Don C.
I remember reading or hearing that the person who discovered Lucy was a big Beatles fan and thats why he named it Lucy (Lucy in the Sky) and also his funding was going to end and what do you know he comes up with the missing link.
Howard C.
I propose that it makes no difference if there ever was a Lucy. There is no denying that huge reptiles roamed this planet, and the scriptures make no reference to them at all. You might twist them to come up with some sort of theory, but a reptile the size of an 18 wheeler is not mentioned. That fact, makes it obvious to me that the scriptures only dealt with what the human writer could observe in his surroundings. That in itself sends me a message that the writer was not some all knowing God who wanted to lay all knowledge at our feet. Not that God is not all knowing, but what he chose to pass on to us through a very mortal human was only what we needed to know. The fact that those huge animals existed tells me this Earth has probably been destroyed at least once before, refurbished and started again.

I frankly believe that God is not regulated to fit our meager understanding. It should be enough for any thinking person to be able to understand that every person has always been completely at the mercy of a creator God when it comes to their physical, mental, and spiritual attributes. We do not come into this world with just what we applied for, but we are completely at the mercy of God for everything that happens to us throughout our lives. Free will is only possible if you have the complete say over all of your life, and abilities.

If I were asked to describe God, I would describe what I know about the complete laws of Physics. Those laws control everything that exist. You may say that when something happens outside of those laws that it proves they aren't God, but I said "what I know about them", not what their fullness is. We humans probably do not know the fullness of the those laws, like we do not know the fullness of God. May God bless you all.
Keaton Halley
I agree that the Bible nowhere definitively says that God did not create a habitually bipedal ape-like creature. But I still wouldn't want to concede this since, when you examine the evidence, it's clear that that interpretation of these bones is driven by evolutionary presuppositions, not the raw data. Also, it's debatable whether the Bible mentions dinosaurs (e.g., references to dragons, Behemoth, Leviathan).

If the Bible had human authors, does that prove God was not the author? Because, the Bible claims that God inspired Scripture through the human authors. These things are not mutually exclusive. See The Bible: Written by mere men?

You invoke God to bless us all, but God has revealed himself in the Scriptures, so I would encourage you to align your view of God with what He has said about himself.
Wiley C.
Is it likely that "Lucy" was carrying the bone as a ? toy, trophy, or something to later gnaw when he/she died?
Keaton Halley
Highly speculative, but I suppose possible.
Charles H.
I had to immediately go read more on this. It appears this came out a few years ago but I don't put much stock in the fossil record anyway. I do find the narrative around it interesting and confusing. The few articles I read at the time of the finding reinforce what is in this article but also I read this nonchalant attitude of the discovery. Only a brief mention that the baboon fragment "washed or otherwise transported in the mix of Lucy's remains". How is this not a big deal? They are just completely dodging having to try to explain why a fragment of a baboon is found in the remains when William Sanders from University of Michigan says there was no sign of a baboon skeleton at the site where Lucy was discovered in 1974 So there was no reason to assume intermingling of elements between two different animals. This statement only provides an excuse to researchers fault for not discovering it earlier but unknowingly deepens the mystery. I would like to know how a single misplaced bone fragment from another species ended up in the mix and just so happen be a part of the spinal column that was not a duplicate. For example, this so called "washed up" piece couldn't happen to be another right femur. This is even pointed out on Arizona State's Institute of Human Origins that there were no duplicates and so they believe and I quote them, "A single duplication of even the most modest of bone fragments would have disproved the single skeleton claim, but no such duplication is seen in Lucy. The bones all come from an individual of a single species, a single size, and a single developmental age". I'm sorry, but all the other pieces you think got right does not outweigh the one piece you got wrong without explanation. It is likely Lucy is a baboon. What a monkey wrench!?
Keaton Halley
I would not say that Lucy is a baboon. But Rupe and Sanford, in their recent book, Contested Bones, point out that there may be other bones in Lucy's skeleton that do not belong (see pp. 96, 118, 228–232). Lucy's discoverer, Donald Johansen, originally claimed that the Hadar sites were a mixture of baboon, Australopith, and even Homo remains! He later changed his view, but a large question mark still hangs over these bones.
Aiden B.
Go Keaton Halley! Great example and we see this all the time in evolutionary history. Nebraska man for example, the evidence? One tooth! Later they found out the tooth came from a pig! But if we step back and think about it, I mean, are you serious? Is that really what you believe? It certainly isn't science and should not be part of science. Human evolution, as it's called, is an example of how far they will go to avoid the obvious conclusion and regardless of their wishful thinking, the reality is, only heaven or hell, and I'm glad CMI is helping to win them over to the true Creator.
Chuck R.
Considering the sparse number of bones of 'Lucy' that were actually found and how evolutionists conflated them into what is "portrayed in museums and textbooks as an upright-walking ape-woman", is it any wonder as to why it is so difficult to reason with them?
Gerry T.
Move along, there is nothing to see here.

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