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September 8th, 2011
12:48 PM ET

'Lucy' discoverer: Why I study human evolution

Donald C. Johanson is the director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University.   He discovered the 3.18 million year old skeleton popularly known as "Lucy."

My deep commitment to understand the origins of humankind was ignited when I read Thomas Henry Huxley’s 1863 book "Man’s Place in Nature." The core idea that gripped my teenage mind was the suggestion that humans and African apes shared a common ancestor that roamed Africa millions of years ago.

I was riveted by the 1959 discovery of a 1.8 million-year-old skull at Olduvai Gorge and I knew that I wanted to travel to Africa and join the search for our ancestors. The allure of conducting fieldwork in remote unexplored regions of Africa dominated my thoughts throughout my undergraduate and graduate studies.

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