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Social sciences: history

Grade 7

The first people

Module 13

The taung child

  • The probable age of the earth is calculated to be 6 billion years. Human beings and their predecessors have only existed for about 5 million to 8 million years, while human beings who have cultivated their own food and have lived in organised communities have only been on the earth for 6 000 to 8 000 years. This takes up hardly one millionth of the world's age.
  • This module will help you to discover something about people who lived millions of years ago. What we have been able to discover about them has come from evidence. Much of this evidence is obtained from bones, tools and painted pictures that have been discovered. But there is virtually no source material for long periods in the past . . .
  • More than 3 000 parts of skeletons belonging to early people have already been gathered in Africa. The accompanying map shows the different places in South and East Africa where these discoveries were made.

  • Africa has become known as the cradle of mankind because some of the oldest human fossils have been discovered here.
  • We'll be finding out how the fossils that archaeologists have found are able to tell us about the lives of these early people.

The human race developed in Africa. The remains of a Southern African child who died about 3 million years ago have provided many clues about early people. This evidence of the earliest member of the human race identified to date was discovered in 1924 in a limestone quarry near the town of Taung (“the place of the big lion”), 80 km north of Kimberley (in the North-west Province. A worker who was blasting limestone in the quarry found a small skull, which was sent to Professor Raymond Dart.

He immediately realised that it was different to anything he had ever seen.

This skull displayed two important features of the human race (hominids), namely:

  • small eye-teeth and
  • an erect posture

The skull was particularly small, which led Professor Dart to conclude that it belonged to a child of about five years of age. This is what suggested the idea of a Taung child. The evidence indicated that the child walked upright, like we do. Professor Dart therefore gave it the scientific name Australopithecus . According to what we know at present, Australopithecus was the first creature that walked upright, like modern people.

Activity 1:

To reconstruct the past

[lo 3.3]

Try to convince your friend by means of scientific arguments that people could not have developed from apes. (Or organise a class debate!)

Source A

Source B

The anatomy of a chimpanzee compels this animal to walk on the outside edges of its feet and therefore to waddle. This differs from the way of walking that is common to human beings, which was also used by Australopithecus .

People are the only primates that walk upright.

This means that the shape of the pelvic girdle, the position of the thighbone and the way in which the feet are placed on the ground are very specific.

The way in which the thighbone bears the weight of the body in humans is also different from how this happens in apes. It is easy to see that Australopithecus is more closely related to human beings than to apes with regard to all these aspects when the Australopithecus skeleton is compared to the skeletons of apes and humans.

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Source:  OpenStax, History grade 7. OpenStax CNX. Sep 09, 2009 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col11023/1.1
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