From Origins Research vol. 12, no. 2, Fall/Winter 1989, p. 12.

Johanson Coverup?

Dear Editor:

I have recently become aware of a claim being made by creationists regarding the specimen of Australopithecus afarensis known as "Lucy", which was discovered by anthropologist Donald Johanson. When I checked out the claim with Johanson, I found that creationists are misrepresenting the facts. As this claim appears to be gaining in popularity (recent appearances include Brown 1989, Morris 1989, and Girouard 1989), I think it is worth setting out Johanson's side of the story in Origins Research.

The claim was first made in an article by Tom Willis (1987) in the Bible-Science Newsletter. Willis wrote that in a question and answer session at the University of Missouri at Kansas City on November 20, 1986, Johanson was asked "How far away from Lucy did you find the knee?" The answer given was "60 to 70 meters lower in the strata and two to three kilometers away." The obvious implication here is that Johanson has been deceiving people about "Lucy's" knee hoint, an implication that creationists have been strengthening with comments such as "Johanson seldom reminds us" of this fact (Morris 1989), "None of [Johanson's] published writings" clarify the matter (Brown 1989), and "To the best of our knowledge this admission has not appeared in print!" (Willis 1987, emphasis in original).

But in fact, as Johanson (1989) stated in a letter to me (and as I have verified), his published writings have been clear on this matter from the very beginning (e.g., chapters 7 and 8 of Johanson & Edey 1981). On Johanson's first expedition to Hadar in 1973, he discovered a knee joint. On his 1974 expedition, he discovered "Lucy" some 2.5km northweast of (and 70m higher than) the knee joint locality. The creationists who have been implying a coverup have not done their homework.

In the question and answer session, Johanson was not answering the question "Where did you find Lucy's knee joint?" Willis goes on to say that when he asked, "Then, why are you so sure it belonged to Lucy?," Johanson answered, "Anatomical similarity." There was apparently a misunderstanding here. Johanson claims, not that the knee joint belonged to the individual known as "Lucy" (and his writings are quite clear on this point), but that it belonged to the same species. As Johanson (1989) notes, enough of "Lucy's" femur and tibia is preserved to show that it is identical to the 1973 discovery.

Jim Lippard
Graduate student in philosophy
University of Arizona, Tucson


[The content of this letter eventually became my article "Lucy's Knee Joint: A Case Study in Creationists' Willingness to Admit their Errors," which is a FAQ at the website. This issue of Origins Research printed a response from Walter Brown on the same page which was a masterpiece of deceptive misdirection. Rather than acknowledge that he had made a mistake, Brown changes the subject into an argument that the "First Family" find and "Lucy" could not have been deposited over a long period of time, but must have been deposited during "a relatively recent catastrophic flood." He also criticizes an unrelated statement from my Creation/Evolution debate with him, where I said that Carl Baugh has "consistently refused" to have his Ordovician hammer radiocarbon dated, stating that such tests were now being planned thanks to R.E. Taylor of the Radiocarbon Laboratory at UC Riverside. In fact, Taylor volunteered because he read about the issue in our Creation/Evolution debate, but the test ended up never occurring because Brown and Baugh placed absurd conditions on the test. Apparently the hammer was finally dated in the late 1990s, to sometime between 700 years old and present. See Glen J. Kuban, "The London Hammer: An Alleged Out of Place Artifact."]