Did you know?
Little Foot is an almost complete Australopithecus skeleton dating back more than 3-million years.
When the Australopithecus, dubbed Little Foot, fell into the Silberberg Grotto of the Sterkfontein Caves some 3,33 million years ago, it died face-down, with its left arm outstretched. Over thousands of years the Little Foot skeleton was buried under debris that fell into the grotto.
This bric-a-brac gave this Sterkfontein skeleton protection against the elements while carbonated water percolating into the cave replaced the organic portions of its skeleton and converted the bones to fossils.
In the millennia that followed, the Little Foot skeleton lay there, the caves opened further and evidence of the thriving life within the grottoes and their surrounds was preserved in the cavern soils.
By chance, in 1994, Professor Ron Clarke of the University of the Witwatersrand Palaeoanthropology Research Group, Department of Anatomical Sciences, found foot bones among a box of sundry fossils at WITS.
These proved to be a revelation in that they represented the oldest hominid skeleton found in the Sterkfontein Caves and also revealed characteristics of a mobile big toe, like a thumb, that indicated the probability that Little Foot spent at least some time in trees.
Two fossil preparatories working with Clarke, Nkwane Molefe and Stephen Motsumi, found the rest of the Sterkfontein skeleton in June 1997 in what has been described as the ‘most momentous palaeoanthropological find in Africa.'
This is because Little Foot, which is still being excavated, appears to be an earlier species of Australopithecus that may be able to help solve two enduring mysteries: Who was our ape-man ancestor? And what induced the first hominid to forsake the trees for a terrestrial existence that so affected the future of the world?