Oldest, Most Complete Human Ancestor Fossil Unveiled In South Africa

Posted: Dec 10 2017, 1:04am CST | by , Updated: Dec 10 2017, 2:32am CST, in News | Latest Science News

Oldest, Most Complete Human Ancestor Fossil Unveiled in South Africa
Credit: Wits University

3.6 million year old human ancestor, nicknamed Little Foot, is the only known complete Australopithecus fossil discovered to date

Paleontologists have recently unveiled one of the oldest and most complete skeletal remains of a human ancestor that lived in South Africa 3.67 million years ago.

Dubbed “Little Foot”, the remarkably complete hominoid skeleton was discovered by a local scientist Ron Clarke in 1994. He found several foot bones in the Sterkfontein caves, about 40 kilometers north-west of Johannesburg as a result of rock blasting by minors. Later, he sent other researchers to dig deep into the cave in order to find other possible fossil remains.

It had taken 20 years to excavate, clean and reconstruct the ancient skeleton. Based on Clarke's initial discovery of four small foot bones, the fossil was given the nickname of "Little Foot.”

“Many of the bones of the skeleton are fragile, yet they were all deeply embedded in a concrete-like rock called breccia," explains Clarke, a professor from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa.

“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.

Clarke realized soon after the discovery that the new fossil is something extremely significant. It could help researchers better understand the human ancestor’s appearance and movement. So, Clarke alongside his team applied different scientific methods and analyzed every bone that had been attributed to this human ancestor.

“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.

The fossil belongs to the genus Australopithecus and is about 90 percent complete. For comparison, Lucy, the world’s most well-known fossil is estimated to be 40% complete. Both Little Foot and Lucy have the same genus but they are different species.

Little Foot is not only the most complete Australopithecus fossil discovered to date but it is also the oldest fossil hominid in southern Africa.

“It has a lot of firsts,” said Clarke said. “It's the first complete skeleton adult, it is the first skeleton that has a complete arm and a complete leg in one individual that can be compared, and it is the oldest in Southern Africa."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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