Life: how it all began

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 December, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 December, 2010, 12:00am

Scientists have always wondered where humans come from. Eventually they began to understand that we came from apes. But religion had always told people that God made us.

So scientists began to look for proof that man had changed from being an ape. This month is the anniversary of a very important discovery in the part of that puzzle.

Meet Lucy

In 1974, bone fragments from a part-human skeleton was discovered in Ethiopia, in Africa. This skeleton was named 'Lucy'. She was thought to be 3.2 million years old.

Around 40 per cent of the skeleton was uncovered. This was the most complete part-human skeleton ever found. It told scientists a lot about early humans.

Our ancestors

Lucy provided evidence that her species, an early form of human, could walk upright. Earlier, ancestors walked on all fours.

The big discovery

In 1994, Dr Ron Clarke and his two sharp-eyed assistants, Nkwane Molefe and Stephen Motsumi, found four fossil foot bones in South Africa. The discovery was named 'Little Foot'.

Clarke carried on looking for the rest of the skeleton. Four years later, on December 9, 1998, he and his helpers found the rest of the skeleton. The discovery of a whole early human of this sort was a world first.

Special caves

The skeleton was found at the Sterkfontein caves near Johannesburg. The caves have had many fossilised hominid or human-like skeletons dug out of them. They are filled with limestone which has protected the bones.

The Sterkfontein caves were formed 20 to 30 million years ago. They formed when the rain water soaked into the ground.

Two famous caves are the Elephant Chamber and the Milner Hall. They have beautiful stalactites hanging down from the ceiling. There are sometimes stalagmites coming up from the floor to meet them. You can see them in the picture at the bottom of the page.

Little Foot ?

The bones Clarke found were similar to human feet, so scientists could tell they had walked upright. The big toe bone was like a chimpanzee. The creature could also climb trees.

?and Mrs Ples

In 1947, a nearly complete fossilised skull was found in the Sterkfontein caves. It was a woman?s skull, so she was called Mrs Ples. Many stone tools have been found in the area. The caves are in an area which has been called the Cradle of Humankind. This is because so many early human fossils have been found there, teaching us a lot about our ancestors.

now do this

1What is the name of the caves in which Little Foot was found?

a. Stilfontein Caves

b. Sterkfontein Caves

c. Sterling Caves

2Why is the area around the caves called the Cradle of Humankind?

a. Many fossils have been found there.

b. It?s where chimpanzees first came from.

c. There are a lot of caves there.

3 Little Foot proved ancient humans could ?

a. swim and walk upright.

b. climb trees and swing from branches.

c. climb trees and walk upright.

Find the following bones on the skeleton: