Discoverer of 'Lucy' to speak in Tempe to mark 40th anniversary

Donald Johanson

In 1974, as a newly minted PhD, Donald Johanson set off for the remote badlands of Ethiopia to search for fossil remains of ancient humans. He was rewarded with the discovery of a 3.2 million-year-old human fossil, now known around the world as "Lucy."

The recovery and identification of a partial skeleton as a new species, Australopithecus afarensis, prompted a major revision of the human family tree. This small human ancestor retained an intriguing mix of primitive ape-like features, such as a small brain, as well as human-like characters closely resembling the ability to walk upright, much like modern humans.

Initially, Johanson’s conclusions generated substantial controversy. But over the years since this discovery, and with the recovery of nearly 400 specimens of Lucy’s species, her pivotal place on the human family tree has been secured.

Forty years later, now a world-renowned paleoanthropologist and founding director of Arizona State University's Institute of Human Origins, Johanson continues to advocate for public understanding of the science of human origins and the importance of searching for the clues to how we “became human.”

“Modern humans are the result of the same evolutionary forces that crafted all life on Earth,” Johanson says. “We have evolved into the most powerful creature the world has ever seen, and looking into our deep ancestral past not only offers insights into what it means to be human, but most importantly, reminds us of our responsibilities for the future of this fragile planet we call home.”

Johanson will speak at the Tempe Center for the Arts at 7 p.m., Feb. 12, about the 40th anniversary of his historic discovery and the compelling research that continues today by scientists at the Institute of Human Origins. He will explore how the impact of Lucy's discovery created a better understanding of how we became human and what Lucy tells us about our place in nature.

There are two levels of event tickets – free or $30 VIP (TCA ticket fees are applicable for both levels). The VIP tickets include a pre-event reception with Johanson and IHO scientists and special orchestra-level seating. The pre-event reception begins at 5:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased through the Tempe Center box office at 700 W. Rio Salado Pkwy., by phone at 480-350-2822 or online at

The Institute of Human Origins, a research center of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, is one of the pre-eminent research organizations in the world devoted to the science of human origins. IHO pursues an integrative strategy for research and discovery central to its over 30-year-old founding mission, bridging social, earth and life science approaches to the most important questions concerning the course, causes and timing of events in the human career over deep time. IHO fosters public awareness of human origins and its relevance to contemporary society through innovative outreach programs that create timely, accurate information for both education and lay communities. To learn more visit