Entertainment · June 22, 2022

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

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

Born on August 9, 1934 in Vannes, France, Coppens dedicated his life to unraveling the mystery of human origins.

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

Those who know Coppen personally say he is a cheerful person with a great sense of humor that was provocative at times, and he always expressed confidence in the future of mankind.

His publisher announced the heartbreaking news on Twitter.

Paleontologist Yves Coppens, best 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 surpassed only by his talent as a writer, storyteller, essayist. I lose the friend who trusted 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 descent, was born the son of a nuclear physicist but knew he wanted to be an archaeologist from the age of seven or eight, he said in a 2016 interview with AFP.

Coppens was admitted to France’s prestigious CNRS science center in 1956, aged just 22.

Those who know Coppen personally say he's a smiley individual with a great one

Those who know Coppen personally say he’s a smiley individual with a great one

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 discovered a 2.6-million-year-old biped hominid fossil in the Omo River Valley, Ethiopia.

But it was not until 1974 that 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.

When they determined the pieces fit into the same skeleton, they decided to name it Lucy – that was the Beatles song “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” that played 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 at 3.5 feet.

45 years ago he stumbled across a 3.2 million year old skeleton in southern Ethiopia that changed our understanding of human evolution - Lucy showed that our human ancestors walked upright much earlier than previously thought

45 years ago he stumbled across a 3.2 million year old skeleton in southern Ethiopia that changed our understanding of human evolution – Lucy showed that our human ancestors walked upright much earlier than previously thought

Her remains have since been analyzed over the years, yielding other interesting facts.

In 2016, it was discovered that she was a tree climber and may have met her death after falling from one.

After the famous discovery of Lucy, Coppens conducted excavations in Mauritania, the Philippines, Indonesia, Siberia, China and Mongolia.

Back home, he became the director of the Musée de l’Homme (Museum of Mankind) in Paris, became a professor of paleontology at the prestigious College de France, and joined the French Academy of Sciences.

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

Aside from discovering Lucy, Coppens once told AFP he was particularly proud of having “made an irrefutable link between human origins and climate change.”

As forests gave way to savannas, humans stopped climbing trees, began walking upright and had to develop their brain power to keep carnivores at bay, he said.