Yves Coppens, the famous French paleontologist was 87 years old. He is considered the discoverer of Lucy, a fossil of the extinct species Australopithecus afarensis .

Passionate about excavations at a very young age.

Yves Coppens
Yves Coppens – Copyright AFP – Lionel Bonaventure

Emeritus professor at the National Museum of Natural History and the College de France, Yves Coppens, French paleontologist made particularly famous for having coordinated the team which discovered the fossil of Australopithecus nicknamed Lucy, in 1974, died this Wednesday, June 22 in the age of 87. Born August 9, 1934 in Vannes, Morbihan, Yves Coppens was passionate about excavations at a very young age. « From the age of seven or eight, I wanted to become an archaeologist, » he told AFP at the end of 2016. « All my vacations were occupied by excavations ». On his 20th birthday, busy working on a mound, he refuses to go home. It is his family who will have to travel to the excavation site to celebrate his birthday there, he remembered mischievously. With a bachelor’s degree in experimental sciences, the young Breton obtained a degree in natural sciences and then a doctorate in paleontology. He entered the CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research) in 1956, when he was only 22 years old. He was former director of the National Museum of Natural History, holder of the chair of paleontology and prehistory at the Collège de France. Yves Coppens identified in 1961 a first prehistoric skull in northern Chad. In 1967, he got his hands on a 2.6 million year old hominid mandible in Shungura, West Omo. It is the first fossil specimen of an unknown species: Paranthropus aethiopicus.

Lucy, the discovery of his life

But fame will come seven years later. On November 30, 1974 in Hadar, Ethiopia, Yves Coppens discovered a 40% complete fossil of Australopithecus afarensis as part of the International Afar Research Expedition that he co-led with American paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson and French geologist Maurice Taieb. . Australopithecus had been nicknamed Lucy in reference to the Beatles song Lucy in The Sky with Diamonds listened to by the team at the time. Lucy has sometimes been considered the ancestor of modern humans, before research into the origins of mankind challenged this presentation. « Lucy is three million two hundred thousand years old and the first man is three million years old, explained Yves Coppens himself. I apologize to Lucy but I do not believe that she is our grandmother! »

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