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Little Foot

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© AMNH Exhibitions

Little Foot site in South Africa


In 1997, scientists working in South Africa located a nearly complete skeleton of a hominid who lived more than three million years ago. This extraordinary find was initially surrounded by solid rock, but once researchers finish the painstaking task of revealing the entire fossil, it could be among the most complete early hominid skeletons ever uncovered. Nicknamed "Little Foot" because its tiny foot bones were the first to be discovered, it probably belonged to an early species of Australopithecus.

Examine the Evidence: Primate feet

The unique architecture of the human foot helps us walk upright. Unlike other living primates, humans have a big toe that is in line with the other toes. Modern human feet are also arched, so they distribute weight efficiently as we walk.

Finding the Fossil

Paleoanthropologist Ronald Clarke was examining a box of bones from the caves of Sterkfontein, South Africa, when he discovered four foot bones that clearly belonged to a hominid. He searched further and eventually found part of a leg bone with an unusually clean break. Intrigued, Clarke asked two colleagues, Stephen Motsumi and Nkwane Molefe, to search for a match to the leg bone fragment embedded in the wall of the cave. Two days later, using only hand-held lamps, Motsumi and Molefe found the matching leg.

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