The Buzz | Rare skeleton shown of human ancestor, 3.6 million years old

07 December, 2017, 07:02 | Author: Darnell Taylor
  • Ron Clarke with the Little Foot skeleton which he has been working on since 1995

The "Little Foot" skeleton, unearthed 20 years ago and the world's oldest most complete skeleton, has finally been unveiled in South Africa.

He explained that the name Little Foot was coined by Wits Paleontology professor Phillip Tobias who, upon seeing the size of skeleton's foot bones, said they should refer to her as Little Foot.

Clarke discovered fragments of Little Foot in 1994, when he was sorting through a box of animal fossils from the Silberberg Grotto in Sterkfontein that had been removed more than a decade earlier.

It is about 1.3 metres long and is really a small creature, but Professor Ron Clarke has managed to piece it together over the course of 23 years.

The virtually complete Australopithecus skeleton went on display at the university on Wednesday.

"This is one of the most remarkable fossil discoveries made in the history of human origins research and it is a privilege to unveil a finding of this importance today", Clarke said.

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

Researchers say it has taken more than 20 years to excavate, clean, reconstruct and analyse the remains. Two days later, they did just that. The results of these studies are expected to be published in a series of scientific papers in high impact, peer reviewed global journals in the near future.

Importantly, her presence suggests that hominins were spread out farther across Africa than previously thought, and she's the first skeleton that allows a comparison between arm length and leg length in a single individual.

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. Once the upward-facing surfaces of the skeleton's bones were exposed, the breccia in which the undersides were still embedded had to be carefully undercut and removed in blocks for further cleaning in the lab...

The university is proud of the assembly, saying it's a chance for scientists to better understand evolution.

"Not only is Africa the storehouse of the ancient fossil heritage for people the world over, it was also the wellspring of everything that makes us human, including our technological prowess, our artistic ability and our supreme intellect", said Blumenschine.

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