In 1924 Quarrymen excavating lime at the Buxton Limeworks in Taung, South Africa, discovered the 2.3 million year old fossilised skull of a young primate. Forty days after examining the fossil, Raymond Dart, an anatomist at the University of Witwatersrand, completed a paper that declared this primate to be a missing link, an extinct race of intermediate apes between anthropoids and man, a claim that located the origin of our species to Africa. He named this species Australopithecus africanus: the "southern ape from Africa", later nicknamed “The Taung Child”. This paper was published in the journal Nature in 1925.
Despite decades of scepticism from the scientific community, his conclusions were eventually confirmed, and the Taung skull is now in repository at the University of Witwatersrand, and is widely considered one of the most important anthropological fossil finds of the twentieth century.
The sculpture, constructed almost entirely from concrete, talks directly to the evolution of man. Cianfanelli’s memorial outlines a modern human skull within the Taung skull, which in turn lies within the skull of a chimpanzee; the form of the whole resembles the shape of Africa, commenting on Africa’s status as the origin of humanity. Installed amongst indigenous succulents in the Karoo garden at the entrance of the Origins Centre Museum, the sculpture is made to feel like a boulder in its solid, grounded simplicity.
Nestled in the central skull profile, is a steel plate detailed with the silhouette of a feather. This curious feature refers to Archaeologist Lee Berger’s, speculation that theTaung Child was killed by a large predatory bird. The damage to the skull and eye sockets of the Taung Child is similar to that seen in modern primates, known to have been killed by eagles.