Professor Ron Clarke from the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg initially found four small footbones in 1994.
It is, by far, the most complete hominin skeleton globally older than 1.5 million years, and the oldest hominin skeleton ever found in South Africa.
The team says that Little Foot is from a second species, Australopithecus prometheus, which was named back in 1948 from fragmentary fossils.
Clarke was alerted to its presence in 1994 by foot and leg bones that had been blasted from the rock by lime miners years prior, but it wasn't until 1997 that the rest of the skeleton was found, deep in the cave.
Although modern civilization has only been around for a couple thousand years, the existence of humankind and our predecessors extend back multiple millions of years.
In 1997 he found more bones in a cupboard at the medical school of the University of the Witwatersrand.
Excavation, cleaning, reconstruction, casting, and analysis of the skeleton has required a steady source of funding, which was provided by the Palaeontological Scientific Trust (PAST) - a Johannesburg-based non-profit organisation that promotes research, education and outreach in the sciences related to our origins.
The specialised process of excavation then began in earnest right up until 2012, when the last visible elements were removed from the cave in blocks of breccia, a concrete-like rock. "Once the upward-facing surfaces of the skeleton's bones were exposed, the breccia in which their undersides were still embedded had to be carefully undercut and removed in blocks for further cleaning in the lab at Sterkfontein".
The Sterkfontein cave system became famous in the 1930s with the discovery of an adult Australopithecus africanus.
Scientists have unveiled what they say is the most complete skeleton of a human ancestor ever found.
By placing the fossils at well over 3 million years old, Clarke is bound to reignite a debate about the age of the find, which has been disputed over the years. "It is through important discoveries like Little Foot that we obtain a glimpse into our past which helps us to better understand our common humanity". The results of these studies are expected to be published in a series of scientific papers in high-impact, peer-reviewed global journals in the near future.
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