Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Little Foot is oldest complete Australopithecus, new stratigraphic research shows

Date:
March 14, 2014
Source:
University of the Witwatersrand
Summary:
After 13 years of meticulous excavation of the nearly complete skeleton of the Australopithecus fossil named Little Foot, South African and French scientists have now convincingly shown that it is probably around 3 million years old.

After 13 years of meticulous excavation of the nearly complete skeleton of the Australopithecus fossil named Little Foot, South African and French scientists have now convincingly shown that it is probably around 3 million years old.
Credit: Image courtesy of University of the Witwatersrand

After 13 years of meticulous excavation of the nearly complete skeleton of the Australopithecus fossil named Little Foot, South African and French scientists have now convincingly shown that it is probably around 3 million years old.

In a paper published March 14, 2014 in the Journal of Human Evolution, the latest findings by Professor Ron Clarke from the University of the Witwatersrand and his colleagues refute previous dating claims that suggested Little Foot is younger.

The paper is titled: "Stratigraphic analysis of the Sterkfontein StW 573 Australopithecus skeleton and implications for its age," and is the result of a detailed study of the stratigraphy, micro-stratigraphy, and geochemistry around the skeleton.

Little Foot's Story

The Sterkfontein caves of Gauteng, South Africa have been world famous since 1936 for producing large numbers of fossils of the ape-man Australopithecus. However, for sixty years, these fossils consisted only of partial skulls and jaws, isolated teeth and fragments of limb bones. These were obtained by blasting or drilling and breaking of the calcified ancient cave infill or by pick and shovel excavation of the softer decalcified infills.

Questions arose about the age of these fossils, of how they came to be in the caves, and also of how a complete skeleton would appear. Then in 1997 Ron Clarke, Stephen Motsumi and Nkwane Molefe of the University of the Witwatersrand discovered an almost complete Australopithecus skeleton with skull embedded in hard, calcified sediment in an underground chamber of the caves. They began to carefully excavate this skeleton in order to expose it in place in the cave and to understand the ancient processes that contributed to its burial and preservation.

This was the first time that such an excavation of an Australopithecus has taken place in an ancient calcified deposit. During the course of this excavation, it became clear that the skeleton had been subjected to ancient disturbance and breakage through partial collapse into a lower cavity and that calcareous flowstone had subsequently filled voids formed around the displaced bones.

Despite this fact being published, some other researchers dated the flowstones and claimed that such dates represent the age of the skeleton. This has created a false impression that the skeleton is much younger than it actually is.

A French team of specialists in the study of limestone caves, Laurent Bruxelles, Richard Maire and Richard Ortega, together with Clarke and Dominic Stratford of Wits University, have now, with this research published in the Journal of Human Evolution today, shown that the dated flowstones filled voids formed by ancient erosion and collapse and that the skeleton is therefore older, probably considerably older, than the dated flowstones.

Little Foot is probably around 3 million years old, and not the 2.2 million years that has been wrongly claimed by other researchers. The skeleton has been entirely excavated from the cave and the skull, arms, legs, pelvis and other bones have been largely cleaned of encasing rock.

Professor Clarke has concluded from study of the skull that it belongs to Australopithecus prometheus, a species named by Professor Raymond Dart in 1948 on fragmentary ape-man fossils from Makapansgat in what is now Limpopo Province.

Thus at Sterkfontein, there existed two species of ape-man, Australopithecus africanus (for example, Mrs Ples) and Australopithecus prometheus, many specimens of which have been identified by Clarke from two deposits at Sterkfontein.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of the Witwatersrand. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Travis Rayne Pickering, Ron J. Clarke, Jason L. Heaton. The context of Stw 573, an early hominid skull and skeleton from Sterkfontein Member 2: taphonomy and paleoenvironment. Journal of Human Evolution, 2004; 46 (3): 277 DOI: 10.1016/j.jhevol.2003.12.001

Cite This Page:

University of the Witwatersrand. "Little Foot is oldest complete Australopithecus, new stratigraphic research shows." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 14 March 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140314111525.htm>.
University of the Witwatersrand. (2014, March 14). Little Foot is oldest complete Australopithecus, new stratigraphic research shows. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 22, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140314111525.htm
University of the Witwatersrand. "Little Foot is oldest complete Australopithecus, new stratigraphic research shows." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/03/140314111525.htm (accessed July 22, 2014).

Share This




More Fossils & Ruins News

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Neil Armstrong's Post-Apollo 11 Life

Newsy (July 19, 2014) — Neil Armstrong gained international fame after becoming the first man to walk on the moon in 1969. But what was his life like after the historic trip? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
A Centuries' Old British Tradition Is Far from a Swan Song

A Centuries' Old British Tradition Is Far from a Swan Song

AFP (July 19, 2014) — As if it weren't enough that the Queen is the Sovereign of the UK and 15 other Commonwealth realms, she is also the owner of all Britain's unmarked swans. Duration: 02:18 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Tooth Plaque Provides Insight Into Diets Of Ancient People

Tooth Plaque Provides Insight Into Diets Of Ancient People

Newsy (July 19, 2014) — Research on plaque from ancient teeth shows that our prehistoric ancestor's had a detailed understanding of plants long before developing agriculture. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
45 Years Later, Buzz Aldrin on Walking on Moon

45 Years Later, Buzz Aldrin on Walking on Moon

AP (July 18, 2014) — Forty-five years ago Sunday, Apollo 11's Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first humans to set foot on the moon. Speaking at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum, Aldrin described what he was thinking right before the historic walk. (July 18) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
 
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:  

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:  

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile iPhone Android Web
Follow Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins