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Column: Finding Lucy's foot

They found Lucy's other foot.

No, not Lucille Ball; Lucy, the oldest human skeleton yet discovered. She was found footless some years ago somewhere in Africa, where we may or may not have first diverged from the monkey family and started to become what we are now: Thinking monkeys.

No one was certain, because her feet weren't there, whether or not she was the first of the human line. We needed the foot to find out whether or not the opposing big toe would have allowed Lucy to cling better to tree branches, or in its absence, to walk.

She walked. Her foot looked remarkably like ours, I guess, judging from the bone structure.

Lucy is three million years old. That's 3 with this many zeroes: 000,000. Another way of putting that is by saying three thousand thousands. Yet another way would be to say one-hundred-fifty thousand time periods since the birth of Christ, the sum total of which we've--we modern humans--gone through only once.

Only one hundred forty nine-2,000's to go.

Since Lucy was a female, which I guess they can determine from the design of her pelvis, there could be several possible explanations for why her feet were missing all these years. I know I've lost some things over the years, and there are some things that I still haven't found, but were I to believe that my favorite tape measure wasn't going to show up for another two million nine hundred ninety nine years, I'd be kind of depressed.

I found it the last time in just under one month, or 29 days. It was hiding in plain sight, as is often the case. (If we multiply 3,000,000 x 352 days in a year, we get 10,560,000 days. Is that a long time to be missing something?)

I guess so.

Lucy's foot was probably stuck up some Neanderthal males backside, due to his committing some chauvinistic oversight, like, missing Valentine's Day, or Lucy's birthday. I missed my first wedding anniversary, and let me assure you: That woman will hold that grudge at least three million years. Even more notable is the fact that she might not have brought my forgetfulness up for two of those millions, and then in the middle of some disagreement about who did or didn't do something, would say: "If you hadn't forgotten our first anniversary, none of this would have happened."

She's now my ex, and metaphorically speaking, several of her feet are buried so deeply within my posterior anatomy that they won't be found in six million years.

In other words, I'm pretty impressed with this missing foot and the millions of years gone by, which have a margin of error of a couple of thousand years plus or minus.

I guess when your main mathematical target is three million, a few thousand either way kind of loses its significance. This is something my students would be in huge favor of. They really like to argue that they were within a few percentage points, so their answer should be acceptable. But it's not.

So it's possible that Lucy's bones are not three million years old. They may in fact be only two million and a lot of change, or three million plus a few thousand. I, like you, certainly hope they can nail this down a lot more accurately. Lucy might not care any more, but I'd like my missing foot found in a more timely fashion, that far down the road.

There are other believers out there who side with Creationism, which as I understand it stipulates that God created everything, as written about in Genesis, in a garden east of Eden, the date on this being somewhere around six to ten thousand years ago. As you know, this beginning ended badly, and Noah had to build an ark and pull our biblical fat out of the fire.

Noah had a lot of problems, one can assume, trying to bring two of every kind of living creature on board, herding them up the gangplank, sorting them on the run. That had to be pretty chaotic, I know, because I grew up on a farm, and anyone who has ever herded hogs, or goats, or cats, or skunks would know how difficult Noah's task was.

So it's possible that Noah lost Lucy's foot, which means Creationism also has a likely explanation for all this.

Noah had his sons on board, and a biblical directive for each of them to have many wives, which means two more feet each wife to keep track of. To avoid. Pity those sons. Wonder what they did to deserve such a fate. All those females. No shoe shopping on board. Grumpy girls.

Three million years.

I've got a birthday coming up. It doesn't seem so significant anymore, somehow.