The Taung Child

An eagle's prey?

Lee Berger Lee Berger
Photo: Lee Berger

The fact that the Taung Child was the only australopithecine that had ever been found at Taung, despite intensive search, puzzled scientists for years. Then, in 1995 a pair of South African paleoanthropologists, Lee Berger and Ron Clarke, noted that much of the fossil material from other creatures at the site had been carried there by large birds of prey. Eleven years later, Berger (2006) published another paper showing that the eye sockets of the Taung Child, originally discovered by Raymond Dart in 1924, had damage (see photo below) "that is nearly identical to that seen in the crania of monkeys preyed upon by crowned hawk eagles" (Stephanoaetus coronatus). This finding, together with the fact that the non-hominid bone deposit at Taung is characteristic of ones left by birds of prey, strongly suggests the child was flown to its final resting place in the clutches of an eagle. Berger describes his moment of realization: "I almost dropped down when I looked into the eyes of the skull as I saw the marks, as described in

the McGraw paper [which showed the marks left by eagles in the eye sockets of monkey skulls] – they were perfect examples of eagle damage. I couldn't believe my eyes as thousands of scientists, including myself, had overlooked this critical damage. I even went to look at an original 1925 cast of the child to make sure the damage had been there originally, and it had. I felt a little bit like an idiot for not seeing those marks ten years ago. [quoted by Lucille Davie in:]
Taung Child Taung Child: Close up of the damage thought to be caused by an eagle. Photo: Lee Berger

Works Cited:

Berger, L. R. (2006) Predatory bird damage to the Taung
type-skull of Australopithecus africanus Dart 1925.
American Journal of Physical Anthropology, 131: 166-168.

McGraw, W. S., Cooke, C., Shultz, S. (2006) Primate
remains from African crowned eagle (Stephanoaetus
coronatus) nests in Ivory Coast's Tai Forest:
Implications for primate predation and early hominid
taphonomy in South Africa". American Journal of
Physical Anthropology. 131: 151-165.

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