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Cradle Of Humankind - South Africa

It all started way back in May 1924 when a fossilized skull was used as a paperweight by one of the directors of a Johannesburg-based lime works company. His son a university student, thought the skull might interest his fellow students, and decided to take it with him the following morning.

At the university it was spotted by a 3rd year medical science student who took the skull to her professor Dr. Raymond Dart, he confirmed that the skull was that of an extinct baboon. He also noted a hole in the skull and suggested a blow from a sharp instrument killed the creature. If this was the case, it raised the exciting possibility of the existence of a sufficiently intelligent creature to make purposeful use of some sort of tool or weapon and to have made it for a specific purpose.

In November 1924 one of the quarry men at Taung (about the same area where the first skull was uncovered) M De Bruyn, was blasting limestone in an ancient cave, when he noticed a small brain-cast and beside it a face embedded in another piece of rock matrix. Although he was no anatomist, he immediately recognized that it was not a fossil of a baboon. (By this time all the staff at the lime-works were well schooled by Dr. Robert and his colleagues) Bruyn even argued with the quarry manager that it might be a fossil of the San (Bushmen) type.

A few days later the skull arrived at the university and Dart was elated, he recognized that the skull showed features midway between man and ape, even though no similar specimen had ever been recorded. For the next few weeks Robert Dart worked to remove the rock matrix from the bone. He made use of a light hammer and chisel and as the work became finer he used a steel knitting needle.

What Raymond Dart received on the 28th November as a piece of rock was revealed just before Christmas to be the face including upper and lower jaws: the teeth, as well as the brain case and endocranial cast – of a creature unknown to science. The skull was destined to be become the most famous fossil ever to be discovered.

Dart wrote a preliminary report which he mailed to the British scientific journal “Nature” on the 6th January 1925. When the editor read Dart's report he could not believe his eyes and before publishing the document, he sent copies to four leading British experts. Although they advised him to publish the report all four remained skeptical.

The skull was later found to be of the same specie as the Tuang child. Further study revealed that it had died age three or four because of the development of its teeth, hence the name Tuang baby.

The above discovery received the attention of the world press however, this resulted in a flood of letters ranging from "Dart should burn in the fires of hell" to "he should be placed in a mental institution". The major factor for rejecting Dart's findings was that the skull was that of a juvenile and therefore not fully developed. The experts claimed that Dart should find an adult specimen, maybe then they might changed their views. With all the negative feedback Dart stood firm in his belief.