Credit: Jason Heaton
By Charles Q. Choi
A mysterious ancient relative of humanity known as Little Foot apparently roamed the Earth at about the same time as the famed Lucy, suggesting the ancestors of humans may have existed with significant diversity across a good part of Africa, researchers say.
This finding comes from evidence suggesting the mysterious human relative was buried some 3.7 million years ago, more recently than thought. This new date may one day help shed light on which region and which species gave rise to humanity, scientists added.
Among the earliest known relatives of the human lineage definitely known to walk upright was Australopithecus afarensis, the species that included the famed 3.2-million-year-old Lucy. Australopithecines are the leading candidates for direct ancestors of humans, living about 2.9 million to 4.1 million years ago. (The human lineage, Homo, is thought to have originated about 2 million years ago.)
While Australopithecus afarensis dwelled in eastern Africa, another australopithecine nicknamed Little Foot, due to the diminutive nature of the bones, lived in southern Africa. Discovered about 20 years ago by paleoanthropologist Ronald Clarke from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, Little Foot apparently fell down a narrow shaft in the Sterkfontein Caves. This left behind a nearly complete skeleton that could yield key insights on human evolution.
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