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Australopithecus africanus

Photograph of an Australopithecus africanus cranium with fossilized brain matter at three-quarter view.

Australopithecus africanus

AAC Catalogue Number: 2005.2.2

Dates: 3 – 2.2 million years ago

Geographic Range: South Africa

Anatomical Features: 

  • Relatively short compared to other hominins, estimated at around four to four and a half feet (about 1.2 to 1.4 meters) tall.
  • Bipedalism indicated by location of foramen magnum as well as pelvis, rib, and spine morphology.
  • Large molars, small front teeth, and short face compared to other hominins.

Technology Used: A. africanus probably employed Mode I tools.

Diet: Australopithecus africanus likely ate nuts, tubers, fruits, seeds, roots, and grasses which were possibly supplemented by scavenged meat and termites. 

Other Info: 

  • Taung child was one of the earliest ancient hominins discovered in Africa in 1924, but Africa remained overlooked in scholarly debates over the location of human origins for another 20 years.  
  • Australopithecus africanus matured rapidly like most other apes. This is very different from the longer child rearing period of humans. 
  • Skull morphology sets Australopithecus africanus apart from Australopithecus afarensis with several features more closely related to modern humans than preceding hominins. 
  • See for more information.    

Remaining Questions: What does the quick maturation of australopithecines such as Australopithecus africanus mean for the development of sexual division of labor, and food sharing, and cultural learning — practices that are typically associated with longer child rearing and maturation periods? 

Description from Bone Clones:

“2.3 MYA. The Australopithecus africanus Skull (Taung Child) was discovered by M. de Bruyn in Taung, South Africa in 1924. Anatomy professor Raymond Dart identified this juvenile skull as a new genus and species of hominid in 1925 in Nature (Australopithecus africanus, which means “southern ape of Africa”). Dart considered his new man-like ape to be intermediate between humans and apes. The skull, though immature, features several hominid-like characteristics including: a rounded, high forehead lacking brow ridges, rounded dental arcade, no space between canine and first lower premolar, and a foramen magnum (the hole under the skull from which the spinal cord emerges) positioned forwardly under the skull, indicating bipedal locomotion. On the other hand, the child’s cranial capacity is estimated at 405 cc, with a projected adult size of 440 cc., well within the ape range.”