Every day, scientists make discoveries that forever change the way we all understand the history of our planet from the evolution of our own ancestors. It seems that the puzzle of history is endless and what work of scientists to solve it never stops.
Between 1990-1998, an incredibly preserved whole skeleton fossil of a hominin was found and recovered in the Sterkfontein cave system in South Africa. It was first cataloged within the Australopithecus genus and was officially called Stw 573, but due to its tiny bones, it acquired the nickname “Little Foot”.
However, Ronald Clarke – the discoverer of the first Little Foot bones – says it belongs neither to Australopithecus afarensis nor to Australopithecus africanus, but to another species of Australopithecus that was previously found in Makapansgat unofficially named Australopithecus Prometheus.
Little Foot Fossil Helps Scientists Understand Our Ancestors
Now, after more than 20 years of waiting for the proper technology and constant studies, scientists have been able to determine that Little Foot belongs to the period of change in which humans separated from the rest of the primates.
The well-preserved bone structure of Stw 573 provided an opportunity for researchers to differentiate its characteristics. Its legs are very similar to humans, although smaller they have practically the same structure and provided the possibility of walking upright. But the upper part of his body especially the chest and shoulder area shows something else.
Little Foot’s shoulder components are very ape-like and show the ability to support the weight of the body while hanging from trees and swinging on branches.
“Little Foot is the Rosetta stone for early human ancestors. When we compare the shoulder assembly with living humans and apes, it shows that Little Foot’s shoulder was probably a good model of the shoulder of the common ancestor of humans and other African apes like chimpanzees and gorillas,” said Kristian J. Carlson, lead author of the study and associate professor of clinical integrative anatomical sciences at the Keck School of Medicine.
Scientists claim that Little Foot is even a completer and more ancient fossil than other more famous Australopithecus “Lucy”.
This discovery about Little Foot not only helps scientists complete our giant family tree but also demonstrates that the similarities between the pectoral structures of apes and humans and their respective functions have diverged much more recently than it had been thought before.
Step by step our past is being deciphered and we thank Little Foot for a great new contribution to it.