This skeleton of 3.6 million years is the oldest and most complete human ancestor ever seen

Researchers have just discovered the most complete skeleton in the world of an ancient human ancestor. Achieving this achievement was not easy, it took them approximately 20 years.

The recently found skeleton belongs to the genus Australopithecus, and is 3.67 million years old. But not only is it the oldest complete skeleton, it is also the most complete hominid skeleton in the world, and the oldest hominid skeleton ever found in South Africa. It has been called “Little Foot”, because the discovery of the skeleton started with 4 small pieces of bones.

«Este es uno de los descubrimientos fósiles más notables realizados en la historia de la investigación de los orígenes humanos y es un privilegio descubrir un hallazgo de esta importancia hoy en día», dijo Ron Clarke del Instituto de Estudios Evolutivos de la Universidad de Witwatersrand en Johannesburgo, quien descubrió el esqueleto hace 20 años.

Little Foot is not the oldest hominid skeleton ever found, that honor belongs to Ardi, a hominid who lived in Ethiopia 4.4 million years ago. But Little Foot is significantly more complete than Ardi, and provides more help for the study and analysis of our ancestors.

Little Foot is expected to be able to provide a wealth of information about our early australopithecines, how they moved, the structure of their skeletons and how they looked.

The isotope analysis of fossilized dental enamel can even help fill in some gaps in the environment in which Little Foot lived and with what it fed.

Little Foot in situ. Credit: University of the Witwatersrand

Little Foot is relatively small, measuring approximately 135 centimeters (4 feet, 4 inches). It is a “girl”, it has a female gender, as determined by its pelvic structure, face and teeth. It is believed that the bones may have belonged to a young girl who disappeared by falling into a well in underground caves.

Importantly, their presence suggests that hominids extended beyond Africa than previously thought, and she is the first skeleton that allows a comparison between arm length and leg length in a single individual.

His legs were longer than his arms, which shows that he looks much more like humans than apes. She walked upright, and probably lived in the trees.

The fossilized skeleton was found for the first time in the caves of Sterkfontein, not far from Johannesburg, more than 20 years ago.

Credit: Wits University

Clarke was alerted to his presence in 1994 by bones of feet and legs that had been plucked from the rock by lime miners years before, but it was not until 1997 that the rest of the skeleton was found deep in the cave.

It was embedded in a concrete-like rock called a breach , so extracting it from the cave was a slow job. Large blocks of the breach, in which the skeleton was embedded, were carefully extracted from the cave. This hard work took several years, until 2012.

Meanwhile, in a laboratory, a team of experts carefully removed the gap around the skeleton.

“My assistants and I have worked on carefully cleaning the bones of the breccia blocks and rebuilding the entire skeleton to this day,” said Clarke.

Researchers from around the world are studying the skeleton to learn more about this amazing specimen, so we will have peer-reviewed studies in the coming years.