[LISTEN] Little Foot fossils unveiled in SA

Olive Hawkins
Декабря 6, 2017

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". 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.

Remarkably human-like, the fossil is a hominin, a species which predates humans.

Little Foot was alive some 500,000 years before the continent's most famous Australopithecus hominid, Lucy, who was found in Ethiopia.

Portions of the fossilized skeleton were initially found way back in the mid 1990s by miners blasting into the area to gather lime. He spotted four articulating foot bones that he recognised as belonging to an early human ancestor, then sent his assistants Stephen Motsumi and Nkwane Molefe into the Sterkfontein cave with a piece of broken shin bone to find a match. Within two days of searching, they found such a contact, in July 1997. Now Clarke and a team of global experts are conducting a full set of scientific studies on it.

It took the researchers 20 years to excavate and reconstruct the skeleton, which was found in a cave outside of Johannesburg. Much of the work was done deep inside the cave system, working away at concrete-like rock called breccia, using air scribes to avoid breaking the fragile and priceless fossil remains.

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"The process required extremely careful excavation in the dark environment of the cave", Clarke said in a statement today. Once the upward-facing surfaces of the skeleton's bones were exposed, the breccia in which the undersides were still embedded had to be carefully undercut and removed in blocks for further cleaning in the lab...

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. Its discovery is expected to help researchers better understand the human ancestor's appearance and movement.

Radio 702's Azania Mosaka spoke to Professor Robert Blumenschine, the chief scientist at the Palaeontological Scientific Trust, about Little Foot. It's also one of the oldest hominids recovered from southern Africa.

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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