Australopithecus africanus

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Australopithecus africanus
Fossil range: Pliocene
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Mammalia
Order: Primates
Family: Hominidae
Genus: Australopithecus
Species: A. africanus
Binomial name
Australopithecus africanus
Dart, 1925

Plesianthropus transvaalensis
Plesianthropus africanus
Australopithecus prometheus

Australopithecus africanus ("southern small ape of Africa") is a species of early hominin. Fossils of A. africanus have only been found in South Africa.


The first individual of A. africanus was discovered in 1924 at the Buxton limeworks near Taung, South Africa [1]. It is a child's skull and mandible known as the Taung Child. The skull was described by Raymond Dart in 1925.[2]. It is the only hominin fossil discovered at that site.[1] Further discoveries of A. africanus were made at Sterkfontein by Robert Broom and Makapansgat by teams led by Raymond Dart.


A. africanus has a predicted body weight approximating that of chimpanzees - with females estimated to have weighed around 25 to 35 kilograms and males around 40 to 50 kg, although estimates vary.[3] It is suggested that unlike other early hominin species which have relatively human-like body proportions, A. africanus has relatively long arms and short legs.[4] The cranial capacity of A. africanus ranges between approximately 400 and 530 cc.[5] The face of A. africanus is prognathic and the species has relatively large dentition. Like other early hominin species, its canines are however small relative to its posterior teeth.

Discovery localities


All fossils of A. africanus are held either at the Transvaal Museum, Pretoria or the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. The fossils held at the Transvaal Museum are from Sterkfontein and represent the early collections of Broom. The University of the Witwatersrand holds all other specimens.

There are approximately 700 individual fossil specimens attributed to this species.

Other facts

  • The so called "Mrs. Ples" skull, one of the most famous fossils of this species, may in fact be a male![7]
  • The holotype Taung child is thought to have been killed and eaten by an eagle.


  1. 1.0 1.1 P.V. Tobias (1984). Dart, Taung and the 'Missing Link'. Institute for the Study of Man in Africa. 
  2. R. Dart (1925). Australopithecus africanus, the man-ape of South Africa. Nature. 
  3. H. McHenry and L. Berger (1998). Limb proportions in Australopithecus africanus and the origins of the genus Homo. J. Hum. Evol., 1-22. 
  4. H. McHenry and L. Berger (1998). Limb lengths in Australopithecus africanus and the origins of the genus Homo.. S. Afr. J. Sci., 447-450. 
  5. G. C. Conroy, G. W. Weber, H. Seidler, P. V. Tobias, A. Kane, B. Brunsden (1998). Endocranial Capacity in an Early Hominid Cranium from Sterkfontein, South Africa. Science, 1730 - 1731. 
  6. Berger et al. (1992a). Gladysvale - first early hominid site discovered in S. Africa since 1948. Am. J. Phys. Anthrop.. 
  7. NFI (2002). The skeleton of Mrs. Ples. Retrieved on 2007-08-12.