Little Foot skeleton revealed

Paleoanthropologist Ron Clarke during the unveiling of the fossil of the 3.5-million-year-old woman who had been buried deep in the caves of Sterkfontein

One Little Foot for SA, one big step in understanding our humanity

The first fragments of bones belonging to Little Foot were found in 1994 followed by more in 1997.

It's expected that Little Foot will be able to provide a wealth of information about our early Australopithecus ancestors - how they moved, how their skeletons are put together, what they looked like.

Although the honor of the oldest hominid skeleton ever found goes to a hominin named Ardi, which lived in Ethiopia 4.4 million years ago, the discovery of Little Foot is important because its skeleton is more whole than Ardi's.

In 1994, scientist Ron Clarke discovered small foot bones when he was going through fossils that were discovered in the Sterkfontein cave system.

The specialised process of excavation then began in earnest right up until 2012, when the last visible elements were removed from the cave in blocks of breccia, a concrete-like rock.

A 2007 photo shows a three-dimensional model of the early human ancestor, Australopithecus afarensis, known as Lucy, on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.

He described the discovery as being "one of the most remarkable fossil discoveries made in the history of human origins research".

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"My assistants and I have worked painstakingly ever since, cleaning the bones from the breccia blocks and reconstructing the full skeleton", said Clarke.

The man behind the epic discovery, Professor Ron Clarke, said Little Foot was nicknamed by Professor Phillip Tobias. The face, teeth, and pelvic structure of the fossil indicate that Little Foot is a young girl.

According to Dr. Clarke, the skeleton study should feed some twenty scientific articles in the coming years. The results of these studies, which will include the scientific value of the find, are expected to be published in a series of scientific papers in peer-reviewed global journals in the near future.

"The process required extremely careful excavation in the dark environment of the cave. Once the upward-facing surfaces of the skeleton's bones were exposed, the breccia in which their undersides were still embedded had to be carefully undercut and removed in blocks for further cleaning in the lab at Sterkfontein".

At 90%, Little Foot is today the most complete skeleton of a humanoid more than a million and half years old available to researchers.

Among its many initiatives aimed at uplifting the origin sciences across Africa, PAST has been a major research funder at Sterkfontein for over two decades.

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.

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