The Talk.Origins Archive: Exploring the Creation/Evolution Controversy

Lucy's Knee Joint
Letter from Donald Johanson
August 8, 1989

Institute of Human Origins
2453 Ridge Road, Berkeley, CA 94709 415/845-0333 FAX 415/845-9453

August 8, 1989

Mr. Jim Lippard
Department of Philosophy
University of Arizona
Tucson, AZ 85721

Dear Mr. Lippard:

Thank you for your letter of July 27th, informing me of the upcoming article by creationist Walter Brown in the Creation/Evolution Journal.

It does not surprise me that I am being misquoted because, after all, this is practically the only defense creationists have. In any court of law, such misquotation would, of course, be totally dismissed and not accepted in the consideration of any litigation.

On November 20, 1986 I did lecture at the University of Missouri at Kansas City. Since I give so many lectures all over the world, I do not remember specifically what I say at each and every lecture; however, I believe that I can clear up Mr. Brown's lack of attention to accuracy.

In November 1973, during my first major expedition to Hadar, I found a perfectly preserved knee joint (minus the kneecap) at a locality numbered A.L. 128/129. All detailed anatomical analyses and biomechanical considerations of this joint indicate that the hominid possessing it, Australopithecus afarensis, was fully capable of upright bipedal posture and gait.

In 1974, "Lucy" was found in locality A.L. 288, situated some 2-1/2 km northeast of the knee joint locality. "Lucy" preserves a proximal tibia, as well as enough of distal femur, to indicate that the anatomy of this skeleton in the knee joint region was identical to that of the 1973 discovery. Hence, "Lucy" was also capable of fully upright bipedal posture and gait, as her hip and ankle joints also indicate. Stratigraphically, these two discoveries are separated by nearly 70 meters.

Mr. Brown is thoroughly incorrect in saying that "Lucy"'s femur was found 2-3 km away from the rest of the skeleton. As you can see, these are two very different discoveries; the 1973 knee joint in the lower part of the stratigraphic section, and "Lucy"'s skeleton some 70 m above it.

I find it surprising that he says, "Johanson needs to clarify or deny this in writing. None of his published writings do." If Mr. Brown would use his library card, he would be able to read in Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind, published in 1981, details of these two discoveries; and, in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology, April 1982, Vol. 57, no. 4, he would be able to see a complete bibliography of all publications up to that point, concerning the stratigraphic positions and the evolutionary interpretations of the discoveries.

The 333, or the "First Family" locality, as it is sometimes called, at Hadar, is situated stratigraphically between the "Lucy" site and the 1973 knee joint site, also preserves a knee joint, which attests to the bipedal locomotion of afarensis. In addition, Dr. Tim White and his colleague, Prof. Desmond Clark, found the top end of a thigh bone (proximal end of the femur) in the Middle Awash in Ethiopia, which is dated at 4 Myr and has been tentatively assigned to Australopithecus afarensis, and also preserves anatomy fully commensurate with bipedal locomotion and gait.

I have no hesitation in permitting you to quote from this letter in your reply to Mr. Brown's distortion of truth.

Sincerely yours,

Donald C. Johanson, Ph.D. Director


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