'Little Foot Fossil' Is Rewriting The Story Of Human Evolution

Shelley Hazen

One should never ask a lady her age, but a female skeleton known only as "Little Foot" recently divulged her secrets. The fossil, found two decades ago in South African cave, is telling scientists that far more human species roamed the Earth millions of years ago than once thought.

The Little Foot fossil's age has been the subject of debate for quite awhile, with scientists suggesting in 2006 that she was only 2.2 million years old. And that's no big deal. But a new study is proving that Little Foot is more special than anyone thought, NBC News reported.

"There's nothing wrong with their dates, the data look good, so at that point I conceded that [my] burial age was wrong," said the new study's lead researcher, Daryl Granger. "But it never made sense... This problem with the ages has been something that's been bugging me for years."

Thanks to some new high tech equipment at Purdue University, Little Foot got a second chance to prove herself, reported National Geographic. Scientists tested some samples that surrounded the fossil for millennia in her lonely South African cave and found that she was actually nearly four million-years-old.

That makes the fossil a possible contemporary of that other famous ancient skeleton, Lucy, who actually lived about 500,000 later. Scientists have spent much time debating whether the fossil is just an outlier on the human family tree or a legitimate ancestor, added NBC.

If Little Foot's new age is given the okay by other scientists, she will make that family tree much more robust, proving that the ancient world was full of a plentiful variety of human species living at the same time, but in different areas.

Little Foot also makes South Africa, once again, the potential seat of humankind.

So what is known about the fossil? Well, her skeleton is 90 percent complete, which gives Lucy a run for her money; she's only 40 percent complete. She is also an australopithecine, like Lucy, suggesting diversity in that species as well.

She was a tall and beefy lady with a mix of human and ape traits, walked upright with legs slightly longer than her arms, and strong hands that looked a lot like ours. Little Foot was also pretty strapping and was built for climbing, added Reuters.

What's most tantalizing about the Little Foot fossil is what her discovery and potential age suggests – that the ancient world may be full of even more secrets, researchers told the news agency.

"The fact, therefore, that we have at least two … species living at the same time in different parts of Africa, (about) 3.67 million years ago, raises the question of how many other species there may have been which have not yet been discovered."