New species of Human Ancestor discovered: Meet Little Foot

Lucy, the Australopithecus of three million years ago who was already walking upright in the Afar depression, in the Horn of Africa, died after falling from a tree. Was it a coincidence or was it that she spent more time climbing than walking at ground level? According to researchers at the University of Liverpool , it was precisely in the heights where human ancestors learned to walk on their feet, without having to climb down from trees .

Little Foot is the first fossil of australopithecines that has been discovered with its limbs intact. It appeared in the nineties, in a very deep cavern. Their bones were embedded in the stone and archaeologists have spent the last twenty years excavating, cleaning, restoring and thoroughly analyzing every fragment of this skeleton from 3.67 million years ago, known as StW 573 specimen.

Little Foot is the first fossil of australopithecines that has been discovered with its limbs intact

First, only 12 bones of the feet and legs were found, but later work has allowed recovering more than 90 percent of the body of this elderly woman , twice as much as the famous Lucy. Both were part of the wide and varied genus Australopithecus , early precursor of modern Homo Sapiens , which appeared approximately 300,000 years ago.

The study of the delicate bone – which was sometimes as thin as paper – offers conclusive evidence, the researchers say, that human ancestors became efficient upright walkers when they were still substantially tree-dwelling animals.

First, only 12 bones of the feet and legs of Little Foot were found

“This hominid had, for the first time in the fossil record, lower limbs longer than the upper limbs. Like us. This is an important finding, since the Ardipithecus , a little older and that appeared before the Australopithecus , still had arms longer than legs, more like other great apes like the gorilla, “says Professor Robin Crompton in a statement.

Archaeologists believe that this nuance “means that I had a long stride in bipedalism”. Also, unlike Lucy, Little Foot had a hip joint like ours, capable of transmitting large forces from the trunk to the leg and vice versa. “Most likely, I resided in an area with a mixture of tropical rainforest, broken forests and pastures, eating fruits and leaves of the forest,” he adds.

This hominid had lower limbs longer than the upper limbs

Although Little Foot’s legs were longer than his arms, they had not yet reached the great relative length of the leg that is found in humans. Therefore, StW 573 would not have been so good at carrying objects like us. Instead it would have been much better climbing trees than modern humans.

These conclusions support the arguments put forward by its discoverer, Professor Ronald Clarke, of the University of the Witwatersrand. Clarke considered that there were two species of Australopithecus living at the same time in the “Cradle of the humanity”, the set of deposits located to about 50 kilometers to the northwest of Johannesburg (South Africa).

One of them, Australopithecus africanus , had small individuals, such as Lucy, and probably inhabited mainly the tree canopy. The prometheus Australopithecus , however, were probably in the same range of height with modern humans.

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Jeff Wilkinson

About the Author: Jeff Wilkinson

Jeff Wilkinson  is a Senior Politics Reporter at Debate Report covering provincial and national politics, . Before joining  Debate Report, Jeff worked on several provincial campaigns including Jack Layton. Jeff has worked as a freelance journalist in Toronto, having been published by over 20 outlets including CBC, the Center for Media and VICE.com.

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