Renewed investigations at Taung; 90 years after the discovery of Australopithecus africanus

Kuhn, Brian F
Herries, Andy I R
Price, Gilbert J
Baker, Stephanie E
Hopley, Philip
Menter, Colin
Caruana, Matthew V
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2015 marked the 90th anniversary of the description of the first fossil ofAustralopithecus africanus, commonly known as the Taung Child, which was unearthed during blasting at the Buxton-Norlim Limeworks (referred to as the BNL) 15 km SE of the town of Taung, South Africa. Subsequently, this site has been recognized as a UNESCOWorld Heritage site on the basis of its importance to southern African palaeoanthropology. Some other sites such as Equus Cave and Black Earth Cave have also been investigated; but the latter not since the 1940s. These sites indicate that the complex of palaeontological and archaeological localities at the BNL preserve a time sequence spanning the Pliocene to the Holocene. The relationship of these various sites and how they fit into the sequence of formation of tufa, landscapes and caves at the limeworks have also not been investigated or discussed in detail since Peabody’s efforts in the 1940s. In this contribution we mark the 90th anniversary of the discovery and description of the Taung Child by providing a critical review of previous work at Taung based on our recent preliminary work at the site. This includes a reassessment of the Taung Child Type Site, as well as renewed excavations at Equus Cave and the lesser-known locality and little-investigated Black Earth Cave. Preliminary results suggest that much of our previous understandings of the BNL’s formational history and site formation processes need to be reassessed. Only through detailed analysis on the BNLas a whole can we understand this complex depositional environment.
Taung Child, Australopithecus africanus, Plio-Pleistocene, Equus cave, Black Earth Cave, Later Stone Age