One of those controversies focuses on Australopithecus afarensis, and more specifically on the 40% compete fossil specimen affectionately known as "Lucy."
I admit that Lucy has a special place in my heart. For many years I hung out with the paleontologists who found her, and so her fame at the time as the most ancient hominid feels like part of my personal history.
During my first years as a professor at Cornell, I had the job of purchasing and organizing fossil casts so that students could look at, and even hold, their ancestors duringIntroductory Biological Anthropology.
I remember so distinctly holding the cast of Lucy's tiny pelvis and thinking about bipedalism and how that bone confirmed that Lucy and her kind walked one two legs, even 3.2 million years ago, meaning she was a human, not an ape.
But since that time, researches have deduced that Lucy actually retained some ape characteristics—curved hand bones, long arms, and most recently, heavy use of her arm bones, all suggesting lots of time spent in trees, perhaps.
I don't really care where Lucy spent her time. She's my special fossil. It was this woman's bipedalism that pushed the hominid lineage back millions of years. In a sense, Lucy stood up for us. And she was, in fact, the first women to stand up for herself and others.
Our legacy, in other words, started with her.