John Kappelman / University of Texas at Austin
John Kappelman / University of Texas at Austin

Our Early Human Ancestor "Lucy" Spent Plenty of Time in the Trees

John Kappelman / University of Texas at Austin
John Kappelman / University of Texas at Austin

We started from the branches; now we’re here. Researchers say the remains of the human ancestor nicknamed "Lucy" include heavily built arms and weaker legs more like those of tree-dwelling chimpanzees than like those of modern humans. They published their findings in the journal PLOS One.

Lucy’s remains have captivated scientists since they were first unearthed in Ethiopia in 1974. She and other Australopithecus afarensis were the first human ancestors to walk upright. Aside from this, Lucy’s day-to-day life has remained something of a mystery, as has her death.

Some researchers think she met her demise after falling out of a tree. A controversial study published earlier this year concluded that a fracture in Lucy’s upper arm could have been caused by a fall from a great height. Project leader John Kappelman said Lucy’s transitional existence may have been her downfall. “It may well have been the case that adaptations that permitted her to live more efficiently on the ground compromised her ability to move safely in the trees — and may have predisposed her kind to more falls,” Kappelman told Science magazine.

Not everyone agreed. “Terrestrial animals like antelopes and gazelles, elephants and rhinos and giraffes — all these bones show very similar fracture and breakage patterns as Lucy,” paleoanthropologist Don Johanson, a discoverer of Lucy, noted in Science. “You can be sure they didn’t fall out of trees.”

Now, Kappelman and his colleagues are picking up the other end of the story. Computed tomography (CT) scans of Lucy’s bones showed greater density in her arms than in her legs, which suggests she was using her upper limbs far more often.

"It is a well-established fact that the skeleton responds to loads during life, adding bone to resist high forces and subtracting bone when forces are reduced," Kappelman said in a statement. "Tennis players are a nice example: Studies have shown that the cortical bone in the shaft of the racquet arm is more heavily built up than that in the nonracquet arm."

Kappelman believes his team’s new findings support his earlier hypothesis. "It may seem unique from our perspective that early hominins like Lucy combined walking on the ground on two legs with a significant amount of tree climbing," says Kappelman, "but Lucy didn't know she was 'unique'—she moved on the ground and climbed in trees, nesting and foraging there, until her life was likely cut short by a fall—probably out of a tree."

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Evening Standard, Getty Images
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
$2.5 Million in World War II-Era Cash Discovered Beneath Winston Churchill's Former Tailor's Shop
Evening Standard, Getty Images
Evening Standard, Getty Images

A valuable secret has been hiding beneath the floorboards of a sporting goods store in the UK since World War II. As the BBC reports, about £30,000 in roughly 80-year-old British bank notes was unearthed by a renovation project at the Cotswold Outdoor store in Brighton. Adjusting for inflation, their value would be equal to roughly $2.5 million today.

Owner Russ Davis came across the hidden treasure while tearing out decades-worth of carpet and tiles beneath the property. What he initially assumed was a block of wood turned out to be a wad of cash caked in dirt. Each bundle held about £1000 worth of £1 and £5 notes, with about 30 bundles in total.

The bills are badly damaged, but one surviving design element holds an important clue to their history. Each note is printed in blue, the color of the emergency wartime currency first issued by the Bank of England in 1940.

At the time the money was buried, the property was home to the famous British furrier and couturier Bradley Gowns. Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his wife, Lady Clementine Churchill, were reportedly regular customers.

The reason the fortune was stowed beneath the building in the first place remains a mystery. Davis imagines that it might have come from a bank robbery, while Howard Bradley, heir to the Bradley Gowns family business, suspects it might have been stashed there as a getaway fund in anticipation of a Nazi invasion, as he told the New York Post.

The hoard will remain in the possession of the Sussex police as more details on the story emerge.

[h/t BBC]

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Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images
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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
A World War II Bomber Lost with 11 Servicemembers Has Been Found After 74 Years
Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images
Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images

A B-24 D-1 bomber plane transporting 11 American servicemen was shot down over the South Pacific on March 11, 1944. For more than 70 years, the final resting place of the aircraft nicknamed Heaven Can Wait and the men it carried remained a mystery. Now, through the efforts of Project Recover, it's finally been identified.

Project Recover is an organization dedicated to locating the remains of U.S. aircraft that crashed into the ocean during World War II. To find the wreckage of this particular plane, a team of marine scientists, archaeologists, and historians worked together to trace its final flight.

Heaven Can Wait was on its way to bomb Japanese anti-aircraft batteries around Hansa Bay off the north coast of Papua New Guinea when it went down. Before heading off to Papua New Guinea to survey the area, Project Recover compiled data on the crash from military reports, diary entries from airmen on associated planes, and extended family members.

With that information in hand, the team traveled to the suspected crash site and searched a 10-square-mile patch of sea floor with sonar, divers, and aerial and aquatic robots. It took them 11 days to locate the wreckage of Heaven Can Wait in Hansa Bay, 213 feet beneath the ocean's surface.

Now that the bomber has been found, the U.S. government will assess the site before potentially recovering the remains of the lost servicemen. “This is an important step toward our ultimate goal of identifying and returning home the crew of Heaven Can Wait who bravely served our country during the battle at Hansa Bay,” Dan Friedkin, Project Recover team member and chairman and CEO of the Friedkin Group, said in a statement. “Our search efforts for the more than 72,000 missing American service members from World War II will continue as we seek to bring closure to the families impacted by their loss.”

Watch a video from Project Recover detailing the story of Heaven Can Wait below.

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