Paleontologist Yves Coppens, who discovered 3.2-million-year-old skeleton, Lucy, dies at age 87

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Paleontologist, Yves Coppens, who is known for discovering fossils of the famous hominid skeleton Lucy, died on Wednesday after fighting an illness. He was 87 years old.

Coppens, who was born on August 9, 1943 in Vannes, France, dedicated his life to unravelling the mystery of human origin.

And 45 years ago, he stumbled upon a 3.2-million-year-old skeleton in southern Ethiopia that changed our understanding of human evolution – Lucy showed our human ancestors were walking upright much earlier than previously believed.

Those who know Coppen personally say he was a smiley individual with a great sense of humor that was sometimes provocative, and he always professed his confidence in the future of man.

His publisher announced the heartbreaking news on Twitter.

Paleontologist, Yves Coppens, who is known for discovering fossils of the famous hominid fossil Lucy, died on Wednesday. He was 87 years old

Paleontologist, Yves Coppens, who is known for discovering fossils of the famous hominid fossil Lucy, died on Wednesday. He was 87 years old

Odile Jacob shared: ‘#Yves Coppens left us this morning. My sadness is immense. Yves Coppens was a very great scientist, a world-renowned paleontologist, a member of countless foreign institutions, but above all a professor at the Collège de France and a member of the Academy of Sciences.

‘His benevolence, his kindness, his humor, his loyalty, his erudition were matched only by his talent as a writer, storyteller, essayist. I lose the friend who entrusted me with all his work @0dileJacob France loses one of its great men. I will never forget him,’ the tweet continued. 

Coppen, who is of Italian decent, was born to a nuclear physicist, but knew he wanted to be an archeologist at the age of seven or eight, he told AFP in a 2016 interview.

Coppens was admitted to France’s prestigious CNRS scientific center in 1956 when he was still only 22. 

Those who know Coppen personally say he was a smiley individual with a great

Those who know Coppen personally say he was a smiley individual with a great

His publisher announced the heartbreaking news on Twitter

His publisher announced the heartbreaking news on Twitter

He began his career in 1956 and in 1967, he discovered a 2.6-million-year-old bipedal hominid fossil in the Omo River Valley (Ethiopia). 

But it was in 1974  when he made himself known to the world.

Working with a geologist friend Maurice Taieb and  American paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson, the team traveled to Ethiopia where they uncovered 52 bone fragments. 

Once they determined the pieces fit into the same skeleton, they decided to give it the name Lucy – this was the Beatles’ song ‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds’ was playing while they labeled the bones. 

Lucy is the longest-lived and best known example of one of our early human ancestors.

Based on the large part of Lucy they found, 40 percent of her skeleton, the scientists were able to determine her height of 3.5 feet.

Forty five years ago, he stumbled upon a 3.2-million-year-old skeleton in southern Ethiopia that changed our understanding of human evolution – Lucy showed our human ancestors were walking upright much earlier than previously believed

Forty five years ago, he stumbled upon a 3.2-million-year-old skeleton in southern Ethiopia that changed our understanding of human evolution – Lucy showed our human ancestors were walking upright much earlier than previously believed

Her remains have since been analyzed over the years, producing more interesting facts.

In 2016, it was found that she was a tree climber and may have met her demise after falling out of one. 

After the famed discover of Lucy, Coppens ran digs in Mauritania, the Philippines, Indonesia, Siberia, China and Mongolia.

Back home, he became director of the Musee de l’Homme (Museum of Mankind) in Paris, was given the paleontology chair in the prestigious College de France, and joined France’s Academy of Science.

He also won several prizes, served as an advisor on environmental questions to the French government, and wrote several books and more than a million scientific articles.

Besides the discovery of Lucy, Coppens once told AFP, he was particularly proud to have ‘made an irrefutable link between the emergence of man and climate change’.

As forests gave place to savannas, man stopped climbing trees, began to walk upright and needed to develop brain power to keep carnivores at bay, he said.

Dev

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