The Taung child is also known as Taung baby and was discovered in 1924 in South Africa by quarry miners from Northern Lime Company at Taung, hence the name. In 1925, Raymond Dart, who lived between 1893 and 1988 described the new discovery as a new species in the Journal of Nature. The skull was discovered in tufa formations, which included many dead fauna such as baboons, apes and other primates. Most of the fauna discovered here were already extinct; hence, anthropologists were very keen on the few fossils that were unearthed. The skull of the Taung child has been retained in the University of Witwatersrand in the repository. The Taung Child is described and classified as Australopithecus africanus (Dart, 1925).
Discovery and Description
The fossils were taken to Dr. Dart for examination and it was then that he found a skull endocast. It showed a very conmplecx brain and the skull was almoslt similar to that of a juvenile primate. It had a shallow face and its teeth were relatively smaller. After a series of examinations, he concluded that it was yet another significant discovery of a new species. He described it as Australopithecus in the journal of Nature in 1925. It was at this time that the fossil was renamed the Taung Child due to the place where it had been discovered. Dart’s findings were not appreciated until later because the Britons had another fossil that had a large brain capacity and hand teeth that resembled that of apes (Dart, 1925). The fossil was known as Piltdown man, but it was later determined that it was not the true fossil of the time.
As earlier stated, the fossil had shallow face and smaller teeth. The braincase had a natural endocast, and was dated over 2 million years old (Dart, 1925). At first, people thought it belonged to an ape, but it was Dart who discovered that the skull of the fossil had been planted directly on top of the spine, something that is only found in humans and not in any other ape. This was the main indicator that the Taung Child was really a human development stage. The posture suggested a bipedal walking style due to the position of the foramen magnum where the spinal cord connects directly to the brain. At this posture, the head is usually positioned on the spine. In apes that walk on all fours, foramen magnum is found towards the rear of the head. This helps the animal eyes to face forward while walking and not down (Dart, 1925).
Taung Child was believed to have been six years old due to the deciduous teeth discovered. However, recent and more sophisticated studies on the teeth and rate of enamel deposition show that it was only 3 or 4 years old (Dart, 1925). It is believed to have been three and a half feet in height with about 9-11 kilos in weight. The South African brain endocast are renowned to consist of a partial mandible, face and partial endocast that has an almost complete right side of the brain. Dart had initially estimated that the endocast volume of the child was 520 ml, but Ralph Holloway made a more accurate finding of 410 ml in 1969. He also estimated the cranial capacity using midsaggital plane, which had three needles. The main living habitat was the savannah. After thorough examinations, it has been deduced that the rate of growth of this Taung child was more similar to apes than to Homo sapiens (Dart, 1925). This rate was similar to that of other apes until the age of around adolescence. It was then deduced that the young boy had been killed by an eagle. This conclusion was made due to the damages that were discovered on the skull. A close comparison between the injuries and those apes that are today killed by eagles showed a very high relationship between the two (Berger & Clarke, 1995).
Importance of Taung Child to Fossil Records
The fossil was at first disregarded because anthropologists had another fossil, the Piltdown Man. Pilktdown man and Taung Child were very different with contrasting features in all ways. For instance, Taung child had a human jaw, but the brain was resembled that on an ape (Dart, 1925). After continuous debates on the region where man started to live, it was deduced that there was more possibility that Taung Child was better placed as a fossil record than Piltdown Man. The Chinese people had made anthropologists believe that they were right and Dart was wrong, which worked for a long time. Dart worked hard to convince the rest of the anthropologists that Taung child was indeed a fossil that was highly significant to the rest of the anthropologists (Dart, 1925). He worked alone and excluded any other anthropologist until 1931 when he had enough evidence to convince the world about the child. He looked for indispensible evidence on the new fossil, which had not been placed in any evolution context.
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From the studies carried out by Dart, which concluded that Taung Child had been killed by a predator, it can be well deduced that Australopithecus species did not dominate the animal kingdom during its existence (Berger & Clarke, 1995). This is quite unlike the Homos who are superior in brain and development, and are said to rule the environment they live in. Australopithecus was not the same because eagles seemed to take advantage of their inferiority and preyed on them.