Paleoanthropologist Ron Clarke and the University of the Witwatersrand made a big splash last week with the public unveiling of one of the most important hominin fossils ever discovered, known as “Little Foot”.
The press announcement was not accompanied by new data or scientific studies on the skeleton, which were said to be forthcoming.
I’ve written some thoughts about this discovery and its scientific importance on Medium: “Will the “most complete skeleton ever” transform human origins?”
By all accounts, the Little Foot skeleton is not within our genus, Homo, nor is it confounded at the base of our genus, as Australopithecus sediba may be. Whatever its identity, whether it is Australopithecus africanus or “Australopithecus prometheus”, the Little Foot skeleton has an essential role for testing hypotheses of how species are related within Homo. For such hypotheses, Litttle Foot is what biologists call an “outgroup”, the most complete and closest one to our genus ever discovered.
Will it confirm old ideas, or overturn them? Obviously this one skeleton won’t answer every question. But now, no study will be sufficient without it.