Down in South Africa is a region known as the “Cradle of Humankind” not far from the city of Johannesburg. It is called by this name because more fossils of early human ancestors have been found there more than anywhere else. This is the very place where Paleoanthropologist Lee Berger found Australopithecus sediba in 2008 and Homo naledi in 2015.
This is also the place where in a fossilized human partial skull and brain were found back in 1924 by Raymond Dart of the Department of Anatomy at Witwatersand University. This find was and still is incredibly rare! This fossil is believed to be from the hominid species Au. africanus and it took a long while for it to be accepted by academia as an ancient human ancestor because at the time of the find Piltdown Man ruled the roost in Paleontology. It was only after Piltdown Man was exposed as a HOAX that academics began to take Dart and his find seriously.
The fossilized partial skull and brain belong to an individual hominid nicknamed “Taung Child.” (sometimes referred to as Taung Baby). This specimen is believed to have been a very young Au. africanus and the fossil has been called the most important anthropological find of teh 20th century. Taung Child is believed to have lived somewhere between 2.8-3.3 mya. Dart and other colleagues such as Dr. Robert Bloom believed Au. africanus was a “transitional species” of ancient hominid between apes and modern humans.
This is not a large skull. In fact you can almost hold it in the palm of your hand. It has been postulated the Taung Child may have been killed by an eagle or other large predatory bird and this is based on damage to the skull and eye sockets. Paleoanthropologists estimate that this specimen stood about 105 cm (3 1/2 ft tall) and weighed between 9-11 kilograms (20-24 lbs). Its cranial capacity was between 400-500 cc. It is believed to have lived mostly in a Savannah environment in Africa. It is also believed to have been a Omnivore. This skull was actually dug up by quarrymen working in Taung, South Africa and it along with other fossils were sent to Dart for his examination.
Australopithecus africanus was once considered a “killer ape” because its fossils are often found alongside animal bones but today we know that predators also preyed on this species of ancient hominid. It’s also believed this species lived together in groups for protection. Not only is Taung Child a member of this species but so is “Mrs. Ples.” Au. africanus should not be confused with Au. afarensis which is the famous “Lucy” species. Continue Reading