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The face, mandible and endocast from Taung, South Africa, was the first australopithecine fossil to be discovered. We now know that the fossil dates to the period between 2.5 and 3.0 million years ago, but at the time of its discovery, the precise date was not known; only that it was likely earlier than fossil evidence for human evolution outside Africa.

The morphology of the specimen was therefore the strongest evidence about its relationships to humans and living apes. Interpreting the morphology means coming to terms with the developmental age of the skull.

Assess the age and morphology of the individual:

  1. What dental age would you assign to Taung, based on your knowledge of human dental development?
  2. What differences are there between Taung and the chimpanzee?
  3. Imagine that Taung was the only australopithecine specimen ever discovered, as it once was. How would you support the argument that it was a hominid?