Ancient Man Taung Baby Australopithecus Africanus Part 2

About the discovery of the Taung baby an example of the species australopithecus africanus, history and description of the ancient infant skeleton.


TAUNG BABY (Australopithecus africanus)

In the opinion of most, but not all, modern paleontologists, the Taung baby is a specimen, one of the last of its kind, of Australopithecus africanus, a smaller, more graceful specimen. The robustus men were largely vegetarians, judging by their large teeth (molars twice the width of ours) and huge jaws used for grinding. Adults were 5 ft. tall, massive, weighing about 150 lb., walking on two feet but unable to move very fast, and not needing to if they did, as most people think, eat a roots, bulbs, and fruit diet. It is possible that they ate meat too, as modern-day chimpanzees and baboons will on occasion; they may have had to eat meat to survive in the African savanna, where edible plants were few and far between.

They lived in small groups, sheltering in caves, and their lives were simple, as might be supposed, considering their small brains, about the size of those gorillas. The africanus men had a similar cranial capacity, but because of their grater agility and manipulative ability were able to fashion crude tools and hunt small animals.

Their line, some say, may go back to Gigantopithecus in China of 12 million years ago. Or both they and Australopithecus africanus may have evolved from a common ancestor. Or A. africanus was female and A. robustus male, both in actuality of the same subspecies. It is possible, though not likely, that A. robustus evolved into Homo erectus, ancestor (perhaps) of modern humans. On the other hand, they may have been representatives of an evolutionary dead end, wiped out by their quicker carnivore cousins. A. africanus, or doomed to starvation by their vegetarianism.

Experts are not sure, either, of when Australopithecus robustus and africanus first appeared, though there is evidence that it may have been at least 2 million years ago. Anthropologists Louis and Mary Leakey, who excavated in Tanzania's Olduvai Gorge for nearly 40 years, found, in 1959, a big-jawed skull similar to the Taung Baby skull and dating from nearly 1.75 million years ago. They called it "Nutcracker Man" (Zinjanthropus boisei) for its big teeth. If may have been the same species as the Taung Baby or ancestral to it.

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