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Little Foot skeleton unveiled in South Africa

 Little Foot's skeleton

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The skeleton was discovered in the Sterkfontein caves

One of the oldest and most complete skeletons of humankind's ancestors has been unveiled in South Africa.

A team spent more than 20 years excavating, cleaning and putting together the skeleton of Little Foot.

Its exact age is debated, but South African scientists say the remains are 3.67 million years old.

This would mean Little Foot was alive around 500,000 years before Lucy, the famous skeleton of an ancient human relative found in Ethiopia.

Both Little Foot and Lucy belongs to the same genus – Australopithecus – but they are different species.

Scientists believe this show humankind's ancestors were spread across a wider area of ​​Africa than had previously thought. It also suggests there was a different number of species

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Little Foot was discovered in the Sterkfontein caves, north-west of South Africa's main city ​​Johannesburg, by Professor Ron Clarke.

It is thought that she was a young girl who fell down to a shaft of one of the caves

"It might be small, but it could be very important, because that's how it started, with one little bone. And it helps us understand our origins, "Prof Clarke said.

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Paul Myburgh

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The research team spent years cleaning and excavating the bones

The process of removing the bones from the caves was painstaking, as the fossil had "very fragile bones", which were "extremely soft" and "buried in a natural concrete-like material", I added.

" We used very small tools, like needles to excavate it, that's why it took so long, it was like excavating a fluffy pastry out of concrete, "Prof Clarke said.

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