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Little Foot is a rare, nearly complete skeleton of Australopithecus first discovered 21 years ago in a cave at Sterkfontein, in central South Africa.
Previous dates ranged from 2 million to 4 million years old, with an estimate of 3 million years old preferred by paleontologists familiar with the site, said Darryl Granger, a professor of earth, atmospheric and planetary sciences at Purdue, who in collaboration with Ryan Gibbon, a former postdoctoral researcher, led the team and performed the dating.
The dating relied on a radioisotopic dating technique pioneered by Granger coupled with a powerful detector originally intended to analyze solar wind samples from NASA's Genesis mission.
"If we had only one sample and that rock happened to have been buried, then re-exposed and buried again, the date would be off because the amount of radioisotopes would have increased during its second exposure," he said.
"With this method we can tell if that has happened or if the sample has remained undisturbed since burial with the fossil.
"It demonstrates that the later hominids, for example, Australopithecus africanus and Paranthropus did not all have to have derived from Australopithecus afarensis," he said.It's too boring to respond to, but inoffensive enough that you feel guilty ignoring it.