In 2015. cientists announced an earlier time frame than previously estimated for the lifetime of an early proto-human dubbed Little Foot – as much as 3.67 million years ago. The nearly complete fossilized skeleton of the small Australopithecus creature was found in Sterkfontein Cave in South Africa in the 1990s.
Age estimates of the fossil have varied greatly over the years, but new dating methods have allowed a more precise estimate. The accuracy of methods used to date the fossils and stone tools found in Sterkfontein Cave previously have been called into question.
Live Science, quoting one of the researchers, said Australopithecines, including the famous Lucy of 3.2 million years ago, are thought to be the direct ancestors of Homo sapiens.
Australopithecines lived between 4.1 million and 2.9 million years ago. The lineage of humanity, Homo, originated about 2 million years ago, it’s estimated.
‘It was impossible to fit Little Foot into the human family tree with any certainty because “ever since its discovery, the age of Little Foot has been debated,” said lead study author Darryl Granger, a geochronologist at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. ‘If researchers can figure out when Little Foot arose, they might be able to better pinpoint which Australopithecus species and which part of Africa ultimately gave rise to Homo,’ Live Science reports.
In the same cave, scientists found what they believe are stone tools dating back as many as 2.4 million years. They believe these tools were made by a later, more advanced species, possibly Homo habilis.