Ancient human ancestor 'Little Foot' makes public debut

Ancient human ancestor 'Little Foot' makes public debut

The unveiling of a near-complete fossil hominid skeleton dating back 3.67 million years will only solidify the importance of the region.

While the discovery happened in 1997, the excavation, cleaning, reconstruction, casting and analysis would take 20 years.

The skeleton - which has been nicknamed "Little Foot" by its discoverer, Professor Ron Clarke of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa - is thought to be a whopping 3.6 million years old.

Palaeoanthropologist Professor Ron Clarke unveiled for the first time to the public, the Little Foot fossilised hominid skeleton at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, Dec. 6, 2017.

The researchers say it has taken 20 years to excavate, clean, reconstruct and analyze the fragile skeleton. Even with just those few foot pieces, Clarke theorized that they belonged to an Australopithecus species - A smaller, human ancestor with ape characteristics that lived in this part of Africa millions of years ago.

"Little Foot" was first discovered by paleoanthropologist Ronald J. Clarke in 1994 while he was sorting bones found in the Sterkfontein caves, located about 23 miles northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa.

"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 says.

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.

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".

South Africa's Cradle of Humankind, an expanse of farmland and rolling hills outside Johannesburg, has already unlocked some of the great mysteries of evolution. "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 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).

Clarke and a team of global experts will soon reveal results from the decades of studies in a series of scientific papers.

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