Making Lucy

Watch the mask-making

Shedding light on Lucy

The beauty of the Evolution Project in combining art and science has enabled us to glimpse into the past of our ancestors.

Australopithecus Afarensis

Photo: Smithsonian Institute

Looking at our evolution, we could have gone back all the way to a single celled amoeba, but for this project and its focus on movement around the spine, we began 385 million years with Eusthenopteron, an ancient lung-fish believed to be the ancestor of all animals to evolve on land.

As we walk about in our everyday lives, we, as Homo sapiens, dominate the landscape. Originating from the African continent, with the oldest Homo sapien fossil found in Morocco dating back 315,000 years, recent research suggests that Homo sapiens went on to migrate out of Africa and across Europe & Asia around 200,000 years ago. (More info here..)

In this early time of Homo sapiens, other cousin relatives sharing the genus “Homo” such as Homo Neanderthalensis & Homo Denisova lived on Earth at the same time. In fact if you look back over the past 6 million years, there are a number different “cousin relatives” or in some cases direct ancestors roaming the planet. 

With bipedalism, aka standing upright, evolving approximately 6 million years ago, we chose Lucy (Australopithecus Afarensis), a species of hominid to walk the earth 2.9 – 3.9 million years ago as a good first species to explore bipedalism, and represent this key transition in the evolution of man. 

Who was Lucy?

Formally known as Australopithecus Afarensis, the species got its nickname in 1974, following the discovery of a very well preserved fossil in Ethiopia by paleoanthropologist Donald Johanson. Walking back into camp he heard the famous Beetles song “Lucy in the Sky of Diamonds”, to which the fossil was lovingly nicknamed ever since.

Lucy was a bipedal hominid about 3 foot tall and would have walked in a very similar way to a human, with minor anatomical differences. The species had slightly longer arms, hands and feet compared to Homo sapiens, from its earlier ancestors and their movement & climbing in the trees. It is now thought by scientists that the transition to standing would have occurred in the trees, rather than a quadrupedal – bipedal transition on the ground. 


Image from the paper “Pelvic Breadth and Locomotor Kinematics in Human Evolution” L. Gruss et al. 2017.

Alongside the shape of the pelvis of Lucy would have meant less mobility around the hips in walking, with weight swaying from side to side with each step.

Making the Mask

So how did mask-masker, Vicky Wright, bring the infamous Lucy back to life in the studio? 

Meeting AustralopithecusUsing 3D scans of the original fossils, Vicky creates a printable lattice, which after 24 hours of delicate reconstruction provides a base structure to fill and work with in clay, accurately maintaining the shape of the original fossil.

In the process of converting the lattice, Vicky is able to enlarge or shrink the original scan, choosing an ideal size to create a mask to fit the human head. Working in clay, she methodically adds the layers of overlying muscle, soft tissue and skin to recreate the final sculpture of Lucy in clay. 

Working with a range of species across the Evolution Project, information on the external muscles and face shapes are buried within the literature and scientific papers. For Australopithecus Afarensis, a key resource and one of Vicky’s favourite books was John Gurche’s “Shaping Humanity” – which provides a detailed reference into the changing face shapes and reconstructions of hominids. 

With the final shape of the mask confirmed, a series of casting, making and sanding go to create a light weight yet strong mask in beautiful detail. 

Heads up!

An important feature in this process was the consideration as to how a human today would wear this mask. Not only was Lucy’s skull considerably smaller, but its forehead would have been much flatter than humans today. With this in mind, around a centimetre of wiggle room within the mask had to be factored in. Alongside placement and alignment of the eyes was also carefully engineered to ensure that the mask wearer could look out, observe and engage with the world around them as an early hominid. 

Hair dos!

One of the unique challenges with making this mask was considering how the layers of the face were constructed anatomically and how the creature would have looked aesthetically and this entailed the inclusion of hair to the mask. As one of the defining aspects of mammals, hair is an intrinsically important element to Lucy’s replication. Whilst Australopithecus Afarensis wouldn’t have been rocking a perm or a mullet back then, the hair would have been much like many of ours (given a day or three at the beach).