Research

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

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

Scientists at Wits University have unveiled the skeleton of Little Foot.

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

Professor Ron Clarke from the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg initially found four small footbones in 1994.

"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 Australopithecus is estimated to be 3.6 million years old.

Little Foot is by far a complete skeleton of human ancestor.

By placing the fossils at well over 3 million years old, Clarke is bound to reignite a debate about the age of the find, which has been disputed over the years. Two days later, they did just that.

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Clarke realised soon after the discovery that they were on to something highly significant and started the specialised process of excavating the skeleton in the cave up through 2012, when the last visible elements were removed to the surface in blocks of breccia. Now Clarke and a team of worldwide experts are conducting a full set of scientific studies on it.

"This is a landmark achievement for the global scientific community and South Africa's heritage", said Habib. A lot of the work was done deep inside the cave, with scientists chipping away at concrete-like rock called breccia, taking great care to avoid breaking the priceless fossil remains.

Twenty years after the initial discovery, the process of excavation, cleaning, reconstruction, casting, imaging and analysis is complete, and researchers are ready to reveal Little Foot to the world.

Speaking at the unveiling of the remains, Clarke said, per the Mail and Guardian, "This is of course the culminating find of my career, in terms of the greatness of the specimen". The finding will surely help to reinforce numerous theories of human evolution that pin Africa as the cradle of humanity. This monumental discovery only further solidifies the importance of the region's significance as we research human evolution.

Radio 702's Azania Mosaka spoke to Professor Robert Blumenschine, the chief scientist at the Palaeontological Scientific Trust, about Little Foot.

A series of scientific papers will be released documenting the results of the decades of studies performed on the skeleton, CNN noted.


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