by Staff Writers
Johannesburg, South Africa (SPX) Mar 17, 2014
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 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.
Little Foot's Story
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.
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.
Article Reference: Bruxelles L., Clarke R. J., Maire R., Ortega R., Et Stratford D. - 2014. - Stratigraphic analysis of the Sterkfontein StW 573 Australopithecus skeleton and implications for its age. Journal of Human Evolution
University of the Witwatersrand
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