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Apr 02, 2015 11:08 AM EDT

'Little Foot' Human Ancestor Now Dated 3.7 Million Years Old, Could Have Lived Alongside 'Lucy'


A group of scientists has identified a new human ancestor that lived some 3.7 million years ago and could well have walked the Earth alongside "Lucy."

According to NBC News, authors of a study published in the journal Nature dubbed the fossilized skeleton "Little Foot." They said Little Foot belongs to the Australopithecus species, just like Lucy, a pre-human ancestor previously dated 3.2 millions years old.

"It demonstrates that the later hominids, for example, Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus did not all have to have derived from Australopithecus afarensis," study co-author Ronald Clarke, a professor in the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, said in a press release. "We have only a small number of sites and we tend to base our evolutionary scenarios on the few fossils we have from those sites. This new date is a reminder that there could well have been many species of Australopithecus extending over a much wider area of Africa."

The dates of when Little Foot and Lucy are not exact, meaning they could have co-existed. They also appeared to have lived in different places, as Little Foot was discovered in a cave in South Africa, whereas Lucy was believed to have lived in what is now Ethiopia.

Little Foot was actually discovered in 2006, NBC News noted, and determined at the time to be about 2.2 million years old and therefore less significant to human evolution. The new study is based on a new dating technique.

"There's nothing wrong with their dates, the data look good, so at that point I conceded that [my] told NBC News. "But it never made sense... This problem with the ages has been something that's been bugging me for years."

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