Painstaking Study Of 'Little Foot' Fossil Sheds Light On Human Origins

Painstaking Study Of 'Little Foot' Fossil Sheds Light On Human Origins

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The skeleton of Little Foot is seen Oxford, Britain, in this undated handout photo, obtained by Reuters.

Sophisticated scanning technology is revealing intriguing secrets about Little Foot, the remarkable fossil of an early human forerunner that inhabited South Africa 3.67 million years ago during a critical juncture in our evolutionary history.

Scientists said on Tuesday they examined key parts of the nearly complete and well-preserved fossil at Britain's national synchrotron facility, Diamond Light Source. The scanning focused upon Little Foot's cranial vault - the upper part of her braincase - and her lower jaw, or mandible.

The researchers gained insight not only into the biology of Little Foot's species but also into the hardships that this individual, an adult female, encountered during her life.

Little Foot's species blended ape-like and human-like traits and is considered a possible direct ancestor of humans. University of the Witwatersrand paleoanthropologist Ron Clarke, who unearthed the fossil in the 1990s in the Sterkfontein Caves northwest of Johannesburg and is a co-author of the new study, has identified the species as Australopithecus prometheus.

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