A look at Little Foot

1 minute read

Along with the papers on the Malapa hominins, Science this week published a news story by Michael Balter that is a profile of Ron Clarke and his work on the “Little Foot” skeleton, StW 573 from Sterkfontein Balter:Clarke:2011. This specimen has been coming out of the ground for nearly seventeen years now, and Balter reports that the final pieces are to come out of the cave within two months. The article hits on the important issue of dating:

Meanwhile, Clarke and three independent teams are getting divergent dating results. In 2000, Clarke's team, using known reversals of Earth's magnetic field, put the skeleton at 3.3 million years, making it a near contemporary of Lucy and the oldest hominin in South Africa. But since 2006, three other teams, using uranium-lead and paleomagnetic dating, have published dates ranging from 2.2 million to 2.6 million years, although they all regard the younger date to be more likely. That would make Little Foot about the age of the earliest known Homo and only a little older than Au. sediba. Clarke is now working with geologist Laurent Bruxelles of the University of Toulouse in France to produce their own new dates.

It’s striking that in an article about a complete hominin skeleton, the only informed commentary and opinion is about the foot anatomy. The foot is the only part that has yet been published in enough detail for intelligent comment, and as Balter points out, very few individuals have seen the specimens or casts of them. There are casts of the specimen in situ on display at Maropeng and the smaller museum at Sterkfontein, though. It struck me just how large the specimen is. I would describe it as the first human-sized australopithecine.