How Lucy Died and Why It Matters

John Kappelman

Thursday, 02 Nov 2017 at 7:00 pm – Great Hall, Memorial Union

John Kappelman, a paleoanthropologist and professor at the University of Texas at Austin, will discuss the most famous fossil in the world - Lucy, an ancient human ancestor found in Ethiopia in 1974 - and what her bones tell us about our evolutionary history. Using CT technology, Kappelman and his team identified a series of fractures in Lucy’s skeleton, which they interpreted as traumatic injuries resulting from a fall, most likely from high in a tree. Their findings on Lucy's cause of death, subsequently published in the journal Nature, suggest that Lucy may actually have been a tree dweller and are challenging scientists' understanding of human evolution.
John Kappelman is a professor in the Departments of Anthropology and Geological Sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. His interests include the evolutionary history of primates and especially hominoid and hominin origins and evolution, with a research focus in paleoecology, functional morphology, sedimentology and stratigraphy, paleomagnetism, and computer imaging.

Dr. Kappelman has conducted field work across Africa and Asia, with current projects on the Middle Stone Age of northwestern Ethiopia, Oligo-Miocene monkeys and hominoids of West Turkana, Kenya, and the geological history of the Ethiopian Plateau. He and his team have developed several websites including,,, and

Dr. Kappelman’s degrees include a B.S. in Geology and Geophysics from Yale University, and an A.M. in Anthropology and a Ph.D. in Anthropology and Earth and Planetary Sciences, both from Harvard University.

Cosponsored By:
  • Anthropology
  • World Languages & Cultures
  • Committee on Lectures (funded by Student Government)

Stay for the entire event, including the brief question-and-answer session that follows the formal presentation. Most events run 75 minutes.

Sign-ins are after the event concludes. For lectures in the Memorial Union, go to the information desk in the Main Lounge. In other academic buildings, look for signage outside the auditorium.

Lecture Etiquette

  • Stay for the entire lecture and the brief audience Q&A. If a student needs to leave early, he or she should sit near the back and exit discreetly.
  • Do not bring food or uncovered drinks into the lecture.
  • Check with Lectures staff before taking photographs or recording any portion of the event. There are often restrictions. Cell phones, tablets and laptops may be used to take notes or for class assignments.
  • Keep questions or comments brief and concise to allow as many as possible.