Little Foot update
|Little Foot in Sterkfontein Cave, Photo: V. Mourre, CC BY-SA 3.0|
There's not much new to report about the Little Foot skeleton this week. Last week, we saw a few preprints released on bioRxiv, and I covered two of them on Human Genesis:
It's a girl! Early lessons from Little Foot
The Skull: Early lessons from Little Foot
There was supposed to be a paper from Berger and Hawks "early this week," but I have yet to see it. It's a technical comment that claims the name Australopithecus prometheus, used by Ron Clarke for Little Foot, is an invalid description, since the name was never properly applied in the first place. So I dug up the 1948 article by Raymond Dart where A. prometheus was first described, and sure enough, there's no species description. Dart merely says this about his "new" species:
...we might be confronting at Makapansgat merely the adult form of the large-brained Australopithecus africanus. But the Taungs infant had an uncomplicated occipital sutural system and it seems more probable that the Australopithecus of Makapansgat, although closely akin, was a different species from that of Taungs; he certainly hunted bigger game and had a more varied dietary. Even if there were none of these differences the locality and the novel evidence it affords would justify reference of the specimen to a new species: Australopithecus prometheus.In this passage from his paper, Dart is talking about a cranial specimen from a site called Makapansgat in northeastern South Africa. John Hawks posted a photo of the specimen on his Twitter account:
“Yeah, other people give you bootleg photos of Little Foot. I give you the *real* Australopithecus prometheus” pic.twitter.com/XGD3nhGsRi— John Hawks (@johnhawks) April 2, 2015
Dart compares this specimen to the Taung baby (AKA Australopithecus africanus), which he found at a different location in South Africa. He claims that the "occipital sutural system" is different in the Taung baby than in the new Makapansgat fossil. (The occipital bone forms part of the lower back of your braincase.) Based on that, and on the new locality, he thinks the Makapansgat skull should have a different name, Australopithecus prometheus. Dart does not give a formal description of the species according to the rules of species nomenclature, which makes it an invalid species name until such time as it is formally described.
Other than that, I don't have much more to report other than a set of news articles on the preprints and pending publications.
- Science News: 'Little Foot' skeleton analysis reignites debate over the hominid's species
- Nature: 'Little Foot' hominin emerges from stone after millions of years
- Science: Identity of Little Foot fossil stirs controversy
- New Scientist: Exclusive: Controversial skeleton may be a new species of early human
That's it for now. Hopefully there will be more to say in the near future.
Dart. 1948. The Makapansgat proto-human Australopithecus prometheus. American Journal of Physical Anthropology 6:259-284.
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