Little Foot unveiled at Wits University

  • December 06, 2017 | Thrishni Subramoney

Little Foot, the world's oldest complete Australopithecus skeleton, was unveiled at Wits University in Johannesburg today.

 

 

The fossil was discovered by South African palaeoanthropologist Ron Clarke, who found one of the fragments of the foot of the Australopithecus skeleton in a box of animal fossils in 1994. The fossils had been found at the Sterkfontein Caves, which is recognised as being among the richest fossil sites in the world. Three years later he discovered parts of the skeleton’s other foot at a medical school in Johannesburg. It took his assistants a day and a half to discover what would eventually be recognised as the most complete Australopithecus skeleton ever found. It took 15 years of painstaking work to excavate the remains, which have been carefully cleaned and reconstructed.

 

 

It was also initially believed that Little Foot, like Mrs Ples (another famous fossil found in Sterkfontein), was of the species Australopithecus africanus. Clarke has since identified the species as Australopithecus prometheus, a species that was first identified in Limpopo in 1948.

 

 

In a statement from Wits University, Clarke says the careful work of retrieving the skeleton was followed by painstaking work to reconstruct and clean the bones.

"Since then, I and my assistants, Abel Molepolle and Andrew Phaswana, have spent the last five years cleaning the matrix from the bones to expose them fully. I have reconstructed the many broken and fragmented elements, and most of the skeleton’s reconstruction is now complete. I also trained Abel and Andrew in mould-making and casting, and together we have so far moulded and cast many of the elements, which are helping greatly in the analysis of the specimen by various members of our team," he said.

 

 

The much-anticipated find has been praised all over the world. Maropeng's curator, Lindsay Marshall, says the find is a significant one for Maropeng.

"It was 20 years ago, and I was a third-year archaeology student, when the find was first announced. It was at this time that my passion for the Sterkfontein Caves and the Cradle began. To be in my role 20 years later and witness the culmination of decades of incredibly intricate work by Prof. Ron Clarke and his team is a source of great pride. My team, the guides and I look forward to sharing all the new information on this incredible find with the public who visit the Sterkfontein Caves."

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