Who was Little Foot?

2009-03-20 00:00

Cape Town — The species and age of Little Foot, one of the world’s most famous fossils and the most complete Australopithecine discovered to date, has at last been established, 10 years later.

After a decade’s slow digging in the Silberberg cave of the Sterkfontein Caves north-west of Johannesburg, this hominid has been sufficiently exposed for Professor Ron Clarke of the Institute for Human Evolution and School of Anatomical Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand to be prepared to identify the species in the latest issue of the South African Journal of Science.

He says Little Foot does not belong to the species Australopithecus afarensis or Australopithecus africanus, but to a unique Australopithecus species previously found at Makapansgat and Sterkfontein Member Four.

He also announced Little Foot’s age in the journal after paleomagnetism established that it was 3,3 million years old.

Clarke says that through the years it has become common practice to classify all the Australopithecus fossils (a particular genus) from Sterkfontein, Taung and Makapansgat as belonging to Australopithecus africanus, but that there are sufficient differences for there to be two forms of Australopithecus present here. It is not only about differences between the sexes, but clear morphological difference (i.e., differences in form).

In particular, the teeth, cheekbones, facial shape and profile and the jaws are different.

The second form is Paranthropus-like. This genus is classified on the basis of the large teeth and strong jaw muscles. They were able to make tools and the brain was slightly larger than that of Australopithecus.

Of all the fossils found at Sterkfontein since 1936, both hominid and animal, this one is most complete. Because Little Foot is so fragile, excavation has had to be extremely slow, but now its skull, both arms and hands, various ribs and vertebrae, both legs and some foot bones, pelvis, right collarbone, right shoulder blade and sacral bone have been exposed.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.