Shedding new light on an old mystery: Early photographs of the Taung Child

Type: 
Research Article
Number of pages: 
4
DOI: 
10.4102/sajs.v108i11/12.1224
Published: 
30 October 2012

Abstract: 

Although it was one of the most important events in the history of palaeoanthropology, many details of the Taung discovery and the events that followed it are still not completely elucidated. In this paper, we recount the events surrounding three early photographs (stored in the University of the Witwatersrand Archives) showing the Taung Child skull being held in the hands of the renowned anthropologist Raymond Dart. Having, what seems to be, a mosaic of evidence both for and against, we deliberate upon whether the archival photographs presented here are among the first photographs of the fossil itself or are of the first plaster cast of the Taung Child which was prepared for the 1925 British Empire Exhibition held at Wembley, London. We interpreted the photographs and determined their provenance through analyses which included historical examination of published accounts of the Taung discovery and archival materials, as well as comparisons of the photographed material in question with both archival and current (digital, high quality) photographs of the Taung fossil itself and Taung skull casts (as the skull underwent changes over time). We conclude that the early photographs presented here are of the original fossil itself and not of a cast. At the same time, these photographs represent some of the first pictorial depictions of the Taung Child skull.

Keywords: 

Taung; Raymond Dart; University of the Witwatersrand; South Africa; History of Science