The joy of discovery

Anna Duszkiewicz

Anthropology professor part of research team to study fossil skeleton more than 4 million years old, documenting research for television

Owen Lovejoy, Kent State University professor and world reknowned anthropologist, looks over an X-ray from one of the many forensic cases he has helped authorities solve. Photo courtesy of David Ranucci

Credit: Ron Soltys

Hanging out with old people – Kent State anthropology professor Owen Lovejoy has been doing it for years.

Lovejoy is known internationally for reconstructing the skeleton of “Lucy,” the fossil of a human ancestor who walked upright 3.2 million years ago.

But “Lucy” is old news.

Lovejoy is now part of a research team analyzing the fossil skeleton of a human ancestor equal in completeness to “Lucy,” but well over a million years older.

The skeleton, Ardipithecus ramidus, may help fill in the blanks of human evolution.

“It will tell us a great deal about early human evolution that Lucy could not,” Lovejoy said.

Lovejoy is in the process of taping a three-hour film series about the skeleton.

The series will air on the Discovery Channel.

“Ardi,” as Lovejoy refers to it, comes from a forest setting, unlike “Lucy,” who came from a savanna.

“This is one of the most exciting fossil discoveries that’s ever been made,” Richard Meindl, chair of the department of anthropology said.

The skeleton, found in 1994, is in poor condition.

“It took years to extract and prepare and then cast,” Lovejoy said.

Lovejoy said a special arrangement has been made with Discovery.

“They cannot air the film until after (articles about “Ardi”) are published, even though the film will be finished long before that,” he said.

The content of the publications and film are proprietary, and everyone on the project has signed a binding non-disclosure agreement, he said.

Lovejoy said he presumes the fossil descriptions will be published by the end of the year.

Meindl said the team of researchers Lovejoy is on is based in Berkeley, California; Tokyo, Japan; Kent State and the Cleveland Museum of Natural History.

Lovejoy is analyzing what is called the post-cranium.

“That’s everything but the head,” Meindl said. “He will describe how this creature walked and stood.”

Lovejoy visited the skeleton on two occasions in Ethiopia and is currently primarily working on casts.

Meindl said the researchers are going to try to get their findings published in Science and Nature, two leading scientific journals in the United States and Great Britain.

The taping of the film series, which has been going on for about 3 to 4 years, has taken place at Kent State and in Ethiopia.

There is no title for it as of yet.

Contact College of Arts and Sciences reporter Anna Duszkiewicz at [email protected].