Nov 24th is a very significant day in the history of mankind for two reasons. Firstly it was on this day in the year 1859 that Charles Darwin published his groundbreaking work, On the Origin of Species.
Darwin’s work was mostly concerned with his findings on Finches, Tortoises and other species he studied on the Voyage of the Beagle. Darwin was rushed into publication because a fellow naturalist, Alfred Russel Wallace published “On the Introduction of Species” in 1855 and came very close to many elements of Darwin’s theories.
Darwin avoided the explosive conclusions in relation to mankind, except for a hint of the possibility in the final chapter. But it was this hint that drove the book to become one of the most famous scientific works ever published. Darwin gave us the language of evolution, with terms such as survival of the fittest and the eponymous evolutionary theory we now call “Darwinism”.
Then, on this day in 1974 two anthropologists discovered the bones of an Australopithecus Afarensis. Donald Johanson and Tom Gray had a party that night to celebrate the find of the Century, a 40% complete hominid skeleton. They played the Beatles all night long and eventually named their missing link “Lucy” after Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds.
Lucy demonstrated that bipedalism came before increased brain size.
In a field of study which advanced by decades on the finding of a jawbone or a couple of teeth the impact of such a large portion of a skeleton was phenomenal. Lucy became one of the best selling books in the world, another crossover from the world of science to the popular zeitgeist.
There are now many theories that focus on the move from small to large brain size. Radiator theory (bipeds can cool their brains by being taller so standing up allows the brain to grow). There is the theory that freeing the hands for manipulation rather than locomotion stimulates the brain to new heights and hence sizes. There are theories that the changed head position supported the development of the voice box, verbal communication, cooperation and society. There are many many theories. But Lucy permitted these theories by showing that walking came before a big brain.
Picture yourself in a boat on a river
With tangerine trees and marmalade skies
Somebody calls you, you answer quite slowly
A girl with kaleidoscope eyes
Cellophane flowers of yellow and green
Towering over your head
Look for the girl with the sun in her eyes
And she’s gone
Lucy in the sky with diamonds