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The Buzz | Rare skeleton shown of human ancestor, 3.6 million years old

07 December 2017, 05:22 | Henrietta Morgan

The Buzz | Rare skeleton shown of human ancestor, 3.6 million years old

Ron Clarke with the Little Foot skeleton which he has been working on since 1995

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

Little Foot was discovered in the Sterkfontein caves, north-west of South Africa's main city Johannesburg, by Professor Ron Clarke.

"What Little Foot shows is that the pictures you see in books of our ancestors coming up and walking on all-fours, gradually getting more and more upright is all nonsense", Clarke told AFP.

Both Little Foot and Lucy belong to the same genus - Australopithecus - but they are different species.

Researchers say it has taken them 20 years to excavate, clean, reconstruct and analyse the delicate skeleton.

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Scientists have finally unveiled the oldest hominid skeleton ever found in South Africa, following more than twenty years of excavating and restoring.

South Africa's status as a major cradle in the African nursery of humankind has been reinforced with today's unveiling of "Little Foot", the country's oldest, virtually complete fossil human ancestor.

The skeleton has been nicknamed Little Foot, Newsweek reports. The almost complete skeleton is expected to help paleontologists know more about the appearance and movement of Australopithecus, the early human ancestors. She's a female skeleton, as determined by her pelvic structure, face and teeth.

Importantly, her presence suggests that hominins were spread out farther across Africa than previously thought, and she's the first skeleton that allows a comparison between arm length and leg length in a single individual.

After lying undiscovered for more than 3,6 million years deep within the Sterkfontein Caves, Clarke found several foot bones and lower leg bone fragments in 1994 and 1997 among other fossils that had been removed from rock blasted from the cave years earlier by lime miners.

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The specialised process of excavation then began in earnest right up until 2012, when the last visible elements were removed from the cave in blocks of breccia, a concrete-like rock.

"My assistants and I have worked painstakingly ever since, cleaning the bones from the breccia blocks and reconstructing the full skeleton", said Clarke.

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

Blumenschine added that the discovery indicated that Africa is more than the storehouse of the ancient fossil heritage for people the world over.

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