National Geographic Expert

Donald Johanson

Dr. Donald Johanson, one of the most accomplished scholars in the field of human origins, is best known for his 1974 groundbreaking discovery of the 3.2 million- year-old skeleton known as Lucy. He and co-author Maitland Edey won the National Book Award in Science for their 1981 book Lucy: The Beginnings of Humankind, which described the new species, Australopithecus afarensis. Today, A. afarensis occupies a pivotal place on the human family tree as the last common ancestor to later Australopithecines and to our own genus Homo.

As founding director of the Institute of Human Origins at Arizona State University, Johanson authored several books, appeared on numerous documentaries, co-created an award-winning science website, and hosted an Emmy nominated three-part NOVA series on PBS.

He is a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a member of the Siena Academy of Sciences in Italy, and as an honorary board member of the Explorer’s Club, he was awarded their highest honor, “The Explorers Club Medal,” in 2010. In 1991, the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry awarded Johanson the “In Praise of Reason” award, and most recently he was notified by NASA that The Lucy Mission to Jupiter’s asteroids will launch in 2021.The aim of this mission is to better understand the origins of our solar system, just as Lucy gave us valuable insights into the origins of ourselves.The first target on this mission is the Donald Johanson Asteroid (52246).

Johanson lectures extensively all over the world about the topic he is most passionate about, our devastating impact on the planet, and urges audiences to make decisions not out of ego or self-interest but as a way to regain a balance between ourselves and Mother Nature, “We are,” he says, “the guardians of earth’s future for our children, our grandchildren, and hopefully many generations to come, and we need to stop thinking we have someplace else we can move to."