Science

Little Foot skeleton revealed

Little Foot skeleton revealed

South African researchers on Wednesday unveiled the nearly complete skeleton of the famous Australopithecus Little Foot in Johannesburg.

Little Foot is remarkable because it is virtually complete: most fossil finds are just fragments of skeletons, but it is missing only parts of its feet, pelvis and kneecaps.

Professor Ron Clarke taking a closer look at Little Foot.

Prof. Ron Clarke with his assistants discovered the fossils at the location, for which they spent a couple of decades to clean, excavate, reconstruct and analyze the skeleton. The skeleton, named Little Foot, was found 25 miles northwest of Johannesburg in the Sterkfontein caves. The recent unveiling of a complete hominid skeleton dating back 3.67 million years is set to increase our understanding of the events that led up to humanity as we know it, and gives us a peek at what life was like before we were around. Stephen Motsumi and Nkwane Molefe, who assisted Clarke, went deep underground into the cave to search for any possible broken bone surfaces that might fit with the bones Clarke had discovered.

After years of painstaking excavation and preparation, "the most complete skeleton of a human ancestor" has been revealed to the world.

The remains - discovered 20 years ago at the Sterkfontein Caves near Johannesburg - have now gone on display for the first time. After two days, they found such a contact in July 1997.

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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, which took until 2012, when the last visible elements were removed to the surface in blocks of breccia.

"The process required extremely careful excavation in the dark environment of the cave. It was like excavating a fluffy pastry out of concrete", Clarke said Wednesday in a BBC report.

The university is proud of the assembly, saying it's a chance for scientists to better understand evolution. "And it helps us to understand our origins", Prof Clarke said.

The discovery is a source of pride for Africans, said Robert Blumenschine, chief scientist with the organization that funded the excavation, the Paleontological Scientific Trust (PAST).

Blumenschine said that, "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".


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