Washington: After 13 years of meticulous excavation of the nearly complete skeleton of the Australopithecus fossil named Little Foot, scientists have now shown that it is probably around 3 million years old.
A French team of specialists in the study of limestone caves, Laurent Bruxelles, Richard Maire and Richard Ortega, together with Ron Clarke and Dominic Stratford of Witwatersrand University showed 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.
The paper has been published in the scientific journal, the Journal of Human Evolution.