Navigation Links
New stratigraphic research makes Little Foot the oldest complete Australopithecus

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 today, Friday, 14 March 2014 at 12:00 (SATS), in the scientific journal, 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. (See the all authors' details and affiliations at the end of the release.)

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.


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.


Contact: Erna van Wyk
University of the Witwatersrand

Related biology news :

1. Register now -- dont miss the latest digestive disease research
2. UChicago and MBL announce first recipients of Lillie Awards for Collaborative Research
3. CNIO researcher awarded by the Prostate Cancer Foundation
4. Research findings link post-heart attack biological events that provide cardioprotection
5. Outstanding research on improving animal welfare in science
6. UT Arlington research says treadmill workstation benefits employees, employers
7. Virtual lab for nuclear waste repository research
8. New bilateral pilot opportunity will fund collaborations between US and UK bioscience researchers
9. Bucking conventional wisdom, researchers find black sea bass tougher than expected
10. Fly meeting to spotlight research advances in genetics
11. Microbe growth to be examined at International Space Station for UC Davis research project
Post Your Comments:
(Date:6/22/2016)... , June 22, 2016 On Monday, ... call to industry to share solutions for the Biometric ... U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), explains that CBP ... are departing the United States , ... and to defeat imposters. Logo - ...
(Date:6/16/2016)... The global Biometric ... USD 1.83 billion by 2024, according to a ... proliferation and increasing demand in commercial buildings, consumer ... the market growth.      (Logo: ... of advanced multimodal techniques for biometric authentication and ...
(Date:6/9/2016)... 9, 2016 Paris Police ... video security solution to ensure the safety of people and ... during the major tournament Teleste, an international technology ... services, announced today that its video security solution will be ... back up public safety across the country. The system roll-out ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:6/24/2016)... Epic Sciences unveiled a liquid biopsy ... PARP inhibitors by targeting homologous recombination deficiency (HRD) ... test has already been incorporated into numerous clinical ... Over 230 clinical trials are investigating ... PARP, ATM, ATR, DNA-PK and WEE-1. Drugs targeting ...
(Date:6/24/2016)... ... June 24, 2016 , ... Researchers at the Universita Politecnica delle ... people with peritoneal or pleural mesothelioma. Their findings are the subject of a new ... , Diagnostic biomarkers are signposts in the blood, lung fluid or tissue of mesothelioma ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... ... June 23, 2016 , ... ... announce the launch of their brand, UP4™ Probiotics, into Target stores nationwide. The ... is proud to add Target to its list of well-respected retailers. This list ...
(Date:6/23/2016)... /PRNewswire/ - FACIT has announced the creation of ... company, Propellon Therapeutics Inc. ("Propellon" or "the Company"), ... portfolio of first-in-class WDR5 inhibitors for the treatment ... represent an exciting class of therapies, possessing the ... cancer patients. Substantial advances have been achieved with ...
Breaking Biology Technology: