Celebrating 25 years since the discovery of Little Foot
The Ambassador of France to South Africa, H.E. Christophe Farnaud, hosted an evening to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the discovery of Little Foot by Professor Ronald J. Clarke of the University of the Witwatersrand and the Sterkfontein Caves research team.
For the first time, the complete cast of Little Foot has been presented to the public, along with other casts of hominids skulls from South Africa (such as the famous Taung Child or Mrs. Ples). The original oldest stone age tools produced in Southern Africa, 2 million years ago, also found in Sterkfontein caves, were also exhibited.
This was also be the occasion to celebrate Franco-South African cooperation in paleoanthropology. It is notably thanks to the assistance of French expert geomorphologist Dr. Laurent Bruxelles that the strata containing the fossil could be precisely dated at 3.67 million years in 2015. This was a breakthrough because it proved once and for all that South Africa was a cradle of humankind and not only East Africa as previously thought.
About Little Foot:
The almost complete, fossilized, skeleton of an early form of the human ancestor Australopithecus, was hailed as one of the most remarkable discoveries ever in the field of palaeoanthropology when it was found deep inside Sterkfontein cave.
In 1994, Professor Clarke was in the workroom at Sterkfontein, sorting through a box of animal bones from the cave, when he came across four foot bones which he realised belonged to an Australopithecus. In 1997 he found other bones in another box and a few weeks later research assistants Stephen Motsumi and Nkwane Molefe found the rest of the legs in cave. The skeleton, complete up to 97 %, was stuck in very hard rock and it took many years to be meticulously excavated, reconstructed and studied.
“Little Foot” was smaller than most modern humans, and had a smaller brain. It walked upright but, thanks to its powerful hands and a slightly divergent big toe, was better at climbing than modern humans.
Wits University is the custodian and home of the fossil. For more than two decades, PAST (The Paleontological Scientific Trust) has supplied substantial funding for Sterkfontein and the Little Foot project.