The oldest and most complete skeleton of human ancestors debuted Wednesday after a team of scientists spent 20 years excavating, cleaning and assembling the various bones that are now known as "Little Foot." 

"Little Foot" was first discovered by paleoanthropologist Ronald J. Clarke in 1994 while he was sorting bones found in the Sterkfontein caves, located about 23 miles northwest of Johannesburg, South Africa. The first bones found were small foot bones, thus the name "Little Foot." In 1997, the majority of the bones were found embedded in natural cement within South Africa's Cradle of Humankind -- a stretch of 131,000 acres that are home to 40 percent of the world's human ancestor bones, according to the site's website

"We used very small tools, like needles to excavate it. That's why it took so long. It was like excavating a fluffy pastry out of concrete," Clarke said Wednesday in a BBC report

Though the age of the bones is up for debate, the team of scientists in South Africa says the bones are approximately 3.67 million years old, which make "Little Foot" the oldest known remains of the ancient human species. If the age of "Little Foot" is correct, that would make these findings 500,000 years older than "Lucy" -- a collection of remains found in 1974 at the site of Hadar in Ethiopia. 

Both "Little Foot" and "Lucy" originate from the Australopithecus genus and include a blend of ape-like and human-like traits, however, differ in species. "Lucy" is apart of the Australopithecus afarensis species, while "Little Foot" is apart of the Australopithecus  prometheus species. 

The new findings may prove that humankind's ancestors were spread much wider within Africa than previously thought.

Ron_Clarke_and_Little_Foot_Skull Professor Ron Clarke first found the bones known as "Little Foot" in 1994. Photo: Wikipedia