The skeleton, dubbed Little Foot, was discovered in the Sterkfontein caves, about 40 kilometres (25 miles) northwest of Johannesburg when small foot bones were found in rock blasted by miners.
South African researchers on Wednesday unveiled the nearly complete skeleton of the famous Australopithecus Little Foot in Johannesburg.
Professor Ron Clarke taking a closer look at Little Foot.
A 2007 photo shows a three-dimensional model of the early human ancestor, Australopithecus afarensis, known as Lucy, on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. It's also one of the oldest hominids recovered from southern Africa.
"This is one of the most remarkable fossil discoveries made in the history of human origins research and it is a privilege to unveil a finding of this importance today", said Clarke. "It was like excavating a fluffy pastry out of concrete", Clarke said Wednesday in a BBC report. Within two days of starting their search in July 1997, they found what they were looking for.
Since then, Clarke has painstakingly excavated, cleaned and reconstructed Little Foot.
According to Dr. Clarke, the skeleton study should feed some twenty scientific articles in the coming years. The results of these studies are expected to be published in a series of scientific papers in high-impact, peer-reviewed worldwide journals in the near future.
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After 20 years of careful excavation, paleontologists are finally ready to present the world's most complete Australopithecus fossil found to date.
Clarke realised soon after the discovery that the team was on to something highly significant and started the specialised process of excavating the skeleton in the cave up to 2012, when the last visible elements were brought to the surface in blocks of breccia.
Among its many initiatives aimed at uplifting the origin sciences across Africa, PAST has been a major research funder at Sterkfontein for over two decades.
The university is proud of the assembly, saying it's a chance for scientists to better understand evolution.
"Our ancestors were standing up when they lived in the trees and when they came down they were standing up", said Ron Clarke, "Little Foot never went through the monkey stage, with long arms and long hands ".
Robert Blumenschine, who is the chief scientist at the Paleontological Scientific Trust that funded the excavation, said the discovery is a source of pride for Africans. The continent is also the wellspring of everything that makes human qualities, including supreme intellect, artistic ability, and technological prowess.