From Scientific American:

In 1974 paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson, now at Arizona State University, and his then-graduate student Tom Gray found the first of Lucy’s bones eroding out of a hillside at a site called Hadar in Ethiopia’s remote Afar region. Eventually the team would recover much of her skeleton. Many of the bones were broken, as fossils often are.  In their analysis of the remains, the researchers concluded that the breakage had occurred after death during the fossilization process.

For the new analysis, paleoanthropologist John Kappelman of the University of Texas and his colleagues examined Lucy’s skeleton as well as computed tomographic (CT) scans of the bones, which showed their internal structure. Their results confirm that many of the fractures evident in the bones occurred post-mortem. But some of them appear to have happened before Lucy died. Comparing the fractures to those seen in modern human accident victims, Kappelman and his collaborators determined that the pattern of damage in Lucy’s bones was most consistent with that of people who experience a severe impact after falling from a considerable height. The researchers detail their findings a paper published online today by Nature.

To get that far off the ground, the researchers postulate, Lucy probably climbed up one of the tall trees that paleohabitat reconstructions indicate would have been found in her woodland home. Roughly the size of a chimpanzee, Lucy would have been able to climb quite high—perhaps to forage for fruit or to build a nest on a branch for sleeping, as chimps do. Chimpanzees can climb to heights of 135 meters in search of fruit and will sleep in nests 21 meters up.

Damage to Lucy’s leg and arm bones suggests to Kappelman and his colleagues that she landed feet-first and then stretched out her arms in an attempt to break …

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