Little Foot skeleton revealed

Federico Mansilla
Diciembre 7, 2017

The oldest and most complete fossil of an Australopithecus prometheus, named Little Foot owing to the 1994 discovery of four small foot bones in the Sterkfontein caves by University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) Evolutionary Studies Institute Professor Ron Clarke, was unveiled on Wednesday.

After 20 years of careful excavation, paleontologists are finally ready to present the world's most complete Australopithecus fossil found to date.

Little Foot was alive some 500,000 years before the continent's most famous Australopithecus hominid, Lucy, who was found in Ethiopia.

The skeleton is probably 3.6 million years old and is expected to help researchers understand our ancestors' appearance and movement.

Much of the recovery work was done deep inside the cave system, working away at concrete-like rock called breccia, using air scribes to avoid breaking the fragile and priceless fossil remains.

Remarkably human-like, the fossil is a hominin, a species which predates humans.

Since then, Clarke has painstakingly excavated, cleaned and reconstructed Little Foot.

The skeleton, dubbed Little Foot, was discovered in the Sterkfontein caves, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) northwest of Johannesburg when small foot bones were found in rock blasted by miners.

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Now Clarke and a team of worldwide experts are conducting a full set of scientific studies on it.

After years of painstaking excavation and preparation, "the most complete skeleton of a human ancestor" has been revealed to the world.

South Africa's "Cradle of Humanity", a large piece of land made up of hills and plains outside of Johannesburg, was the site of many ancestral discoveries - including this most recent unveiling of the hominid nicknamed "Little Foot".

Professor Adam Habib, Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the University of the Witwatersrand says: "This is a landmark achievement for the global scientific community and South Africa's heritage".

Radio 702's Azania Mosaka spoke to Professor Robert Blumenschine, the chief scientist at the Palaeontological Scientific Trust, about Little Foot. The continent is also the wellspring of everything that makes human qualities, including supreme intellect, artistic ability, and technological prowess.

"Our ancestors were standing up when they lived in the trees and when they came down they were standing up", said Ron Clarke, "Little Foot never went through the monkey stage, with long arms and long hands ".

The scientific value of the find and much more will be unveiled in a series of papers that Prof Clarke and a team of worldwide experts have been preparing, with many expected in the next year.

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