A Science Odyssey Human Evolution

Taung Child

In the distant past, perhaps seven million years ago, chimpanzees and hominids branched from a shared ancestor. The hominids evolved and branched into at least twelve distinct species. Today, only one kind of hominid remains: Homo sapiens sapiens.

The story of human evolution has emerged slowly over the century. The first significant discovery was that of the "Taung child" in 1925. Found in South Africa, the skull belonged to a child who was at a stage of development of a present-day six year old. (Early hominids, such as the Australopithecines, grew at a faster rate than modern humans.) This fossilized skull was the first Autralopithecus specimen. With a brain larger than a chimp's but smaller than a human's, it was a true missing link.

Raymond Dart, the discoverer of the Taung child, realized its significance. But because the skulls of young humans and young apes are so similar, and because the skull was so different from other found fossils, including the phony Piltdown Man, other scientists ignored the find as well as Dart's interpretation. With the discovery of several more Australopithecus fossils in 1936 and 1947, this time of adult specimens, Dart's view began to see acceptance.

Lucy in the Earth

Fossilized Footprints

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