The oldest and most complete skeleton of human ancestors debuted Wednesday after a team of scientists spent 20 years excavating, cleaning and assembling the various bones that are now known as "Little Foot". At that point, the rest of Little Foot was soon uncovered in a calcified ancient cave later that year. Even then, Clarke surmised that the fossilized bones came from an Australopithecus species - the smallish, ape-like human ancestors that roamed this part of Africa millions of years ago.
The skeleton of Little Foot, who wasn't so little at the time of her death, was unveiled at the University of Witwatersrand's Evolutionary Studies Institute. Its discovery is expected to add a wealth of knowledge about the appearance, full skeletal anatomy, limb lengths and loco-motor abilities of one of the species of our early ancestral relatives. If the age of "Little Foot" is correct, that would make these findings 500,000 years older than "Lucy" - a collection of remains found in 1974 at the site of Hadar in Ethiopia. "It is through important discoveries like Little Foot that we obtain a glimpse into our past which helps us to better understand our common humanity".
The fossil skeleton takes its name from the small foot bones discovered by scientist Ron Clarke in 1994 when he was sorting through bones in boxes from the Sterkfontein cave system.
Within two days of searching in July 1997, they had found a match. "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".
Now Clarke and a team of worldwide experts are conducting a full set of scientific studies on it.
The researchers say it has taken 20 years to excavate, clean, reconstruct and analyze the fragile skeleton.
Little Foot is the oldest fossil hominid (primates which include humans) found in southern Africa. The results of these studies are expected to be published in a series of scientific papers in high-impact, peer-reviewed worldwide journals in the near future.