Donald Johanson

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Donald Johanson
Donald Steven Johanson

(1943-06-28) June 28, 1943 (age 80)
Alma materUniversity of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign
University of Chicago
Known forDiscovery of a new hominid, Australopithecus afarensis ("Lucy")
Scientific career
InstitutionsArizona State University

Donald Carl Johanson (born June 28, 1943) is an American paleoanthropologist. He is known for discovering, with Yves Coppens and Maurice Taieb, the fossil of a female hominin australopithecine known as "Lucy" in the Afar Triangle region of Hadar, Ethiopia.


Early life and education[edit]

Johanson was born in Chicago, Illinois to Swedish parents. He is the nephew of wrestler Ivar Johansson.

He earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign in 1966 and his master's degree (1970) and PhD (1974) from the University of Chicago. At the time of the discovery of Lucy, he was an associate professor of anthropology at Case Western Reserve University. In 1981, he established the Institute of Human Origins in Berkeley, California, which he moved to Arizona State University in 1997. Johanson holds an honorary doctorate from Case Western Reserve University[1] and was awarded an honorary doctorate by Westfield State College in 2008.[2]


Lucy was discovered in Hadar, Ethiopia on November 24, 1974, when Johanson, coaxed away from his paperwork by graduate student Tom Gray for a spur-of-the-moment survey, caught the glint of a white fossilized bone out of the corner of his eye and recognized it as hominin. Forty percent of the skeleton was eventually recovered and was later described as the first known member of Australopithecus afarensis. Johanson was astonished to find so much of her skeleton all at once. Pamela Alderman, a member of the expedition, suggested she be named "Lucy" after the Beatles' song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," which was played repeatedly during the night of the discovery.

A bipedal hominin, Lucy stood about three and a half feet tall; her bipedalism supported Raymond Dart's theory that australopithecines walked upright. The whole team including Johanson concluded from Lucy's rib that she ate a plant-based diet and from her curved finger bones that she was probably still at home in trees. They did not immediately see Lucy as a separate species, but considered her an older member of Australopithecus africanus. The subsequent discovery of several more skulls of similar morphology persuaded most palaeontologists to classify her as a species called afarensis.[3]

Johanson and Maitland A. Edey won a 1982 U.S. National Book Award in Science[a] for the first popular book about this work, Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind.[4]

"First Family"[edit]

AL 333, commonly referred to as the "First Family", is a collection of prehistoric homininid teeth and bones of at least thirteen individuals that were also discovered in Hadar by Johanson's team in 1975. Generally thought to be members of the species Australopithecus afarensis, the fossils are estimated to be about 3.2 million years old.

Awards and honors[edit]

Other activities[edit]

Since 2013, Johanson has been listed on the Advisory Council of the National Center for Science Education.[9]


  • Johanson, Donald; Maitland Edey (1981). Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-671-25036-1.
  • Johanson, Donald; James Shreeve (1989). Lucy's Child: The Discovery of a Human Ancestor. London: Viking. ISBN 0-670-83366-5.
  • Johanson, Donald; Blake Edgar (1996). From Lucy to Language. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-81023-9.
  • Johanson, Donald; Giancarlo Ligabue (1999). Ecce Homo: Writings in Honour of Third Millennium Man. Milan: Electa. ISBN 88-435-7170-2.
  • Johanson, Donald; Kate Wong (2009). Lucy's Legacy: The Quest for Human Origins. New York: Harmony Books. ISBN 978-0-307-39639-6.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ This was the 1982 award for paperback Science.
    From 1980 to 1983 in National Book Awards history there were dual hardcover and paperback awards in most categories, and multiple nonfiction subcategories. Most of the paperback award-winners were reprints of books eligible for previous awards but the 1982 Science was original, Taking the Quantum Leap by Fred Alan Wolf.


  1. ^ "Honorary Degrees, CWRU 2009". May 14, 2009. Archived from the original on March 8, 2012. Retrieved May 15, 2009.
  2. ^ a b "Crowd loves Lucy scientific sleuth Johanson".
  3. ^ Donald C. Johanson (2009). Lucy's Legacy: The Quest for Human Origins. Harmony Books.
  4. ^ "National Book Awards – 1981". National Book Foundation. Retrieved March 7, 2012.
  5. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". American Academy of Achievement.
  6. ^ "CSICOP's 1991 Awards". Skeptical Inquirer. 16 (1): 16. 1991.
  7. ^ "52246 Donaldjohanson (1981 EQ5)". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved October 30, 2018.
  8. ^ "MPC/MPO/MPS Archive". Minor Planet Center. Retrieved October 30, 2018.
  9. ^ "Advisory Council". National Center for Science Education. Archived from the original on August 10, 2013. Retrieved October 30, 2018.

External links[edit]