Finding Lucy with French paleontologist Yves Coppens

Forty-five years ago, a 3.2million-year-old skeleton was found in southern Ethiopia that changed our understanding of human evolution forever. Paleontologist Yves Coppens was one of the team that found her. Here, he tells The Connexion about his career

The discovery of Lucy, a 3.2million-year-old skeleton, in 1974 is one of the most important in the quest to find out the origins of mankind. One of the team leaders when Lucy was found in Ethiopia was Yves Coppens.

He is now 85 and has spent all his life studying prehistory and sharing his passion with the public, via the television, radio and books.

He continues to give conferences, and his popularity means tickets are sold out within hours.


Yves Coppens – the paleontologist who was one of three leaders of the team that found Lucy in 1974

When did your interest in fossils start?

I don’t know where this great interest came from, but it started when I was six or seven years old. It was perhaps because children have a great imagination.

When you study palaeontology you find actual objects, but behind that you need a great deal of imagination to understand them. I started with archaeology.

I was born in Brittany, where there are several menhirs, so I started with a period which began thousands of years ago, rather than millions.

After my doctorate I began to be interested in an earlier period. I wanted to start on human palaeontology but the professors at that time wanted us to start on animals first, to train for the bigger challenge of man.

So I had the choice between small rodents or the elephant family and I chose the bigger mammals.

I had an extraordinary experience in Siberia. I was in a sector looking for mammoth remains and we could only go down a metre at most because the ground below was frozen.

One day I arrived at the dig and there ...

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