Lit­tle Foot” offers mod­ern-day soci­ety a thought-pro­vok­ing per­spec­tive on glob­al chal­lenges, such as con­flict. That’s accord­ing to Pro­fes­sor Ron Clarke, who unveiled the famous fos­sil at a BRICS event at Maropeng last week.

Lit­tle Foot”, regard­ed as the only almost-com­plete Aus­tralo­p­ithe­cus skele­ton ever found in the world, was one of three famous fos­sils that BRICS lead­ers viewed via a live-stream link dur­ing their tour” of Maropeng. Homo nale­di and Aus­tralo­p­ithe­cus sed­i­ba were the oth­er two exhibits show­cased dur­ing the visit.


Pro­fes­sor Ron Clarke (cen­tre), with Pro­fes­sor Bruce Rubidge, Pro­fes­sor Tawana Kupe, High­er Edu­ca­tion Min­is­ter Nale­di Pan­dor and Gaut­eng Edu­ca­tion MEC Panyaza Lesufi.

Speak­ing to Maropeng ahead of the vis­it, Clarke said know­ing about the con­di­tions that our ancient ances­tors sur­vived should make humans con­sid­er how far we’ve come.

This lady dates to over 3-mil­lion years ago. She’s not the old­est. There are even old­er ones in East Africa, and in those days, they had to fight against an envi­ron­ment that was very hos­tile. They had big cats and hunt­ing hye­nas, and yet, they sur­vived to pro­duce off­spring and more off­spring until we arrived,” Clarke noted

And yet, here we are, engaged in con­flicts all over the world. It’s real­ly stu­pid to have con­flicts. We should be grate­ful for the fact that we’re here and that we have the world, and the envi­ron­ment that we live in.” 

The Lit­tle Foot” fos­sil was dis­cov­ered by 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. Believ­ing that the rest of the skele­ton was in the caves, Clarke asked his two tech­ni­cal assis­tants, Stephen Mot­su­mi and Nkwane Molefe, to search the caves.

It took Mot­su­mi and Molefe a day-and-a-half to dis­cov­er what would even­tu­al­ly be recog­nised as the most com­plete Aus­tralo­p­ithe­cus skele­ton ever found.


At 3.67-million years old, Lit­tle Foot’ is one of the old­est, most com­plete Aus­tralo­p­ithe­cus skele­tons ever found.

It was an excit­ing jour­ney from the begin­ning, when we first found it,” said Clarke.

It was extreme­ly hard work because the bones were soft. They were bro­ken up and scat­tered at dif­fer­ent lev­els in a nat­ur­al con­crete that we call brec­cia. That’s the cave-in fill­ing which is solid­i­fied by cal­ci­um car­bon­ate, and so to first­ly to locate the bones and then to expose them in posi­tion in the cave, was a very time-con­sum­ing and dif­fi­cult task.”

It would take 13 years to exca­vate the remains, which were then care­ful­ly cleaned and recon­struct­ed. The bones were also analysed by a team com­pris­ing experts from all over the world who, in 2015, announced that Lit­tle Foot” was in fact some 3.67-million years old.

Speak­ing ahead of the BRICS show­case of Lit­tle Foot”, Clarke said that the dis­cov­ery was an impor­tant one for humans to ponder.

First­ly, I would like peo­ple to have a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the ances­try of human­i­ty and the ear­li­est ances­tors being here in Africa. I think the more that peo­ple appre­ci­ate the val­ue of our ances­tors and the val­ue of the kind of research we do to under­stand our ances­tors, the bet­ter for all of us,” he said.