chapter  8
44 Pages

The Place of the Australopithecines, 1925–1965

The story of the australopithecines starts in 1925 when the first fossil discovery was made public. This story is recounted here in the 1935-1965 period because its impact on paleoanthropology only started to be significantly felt in the 1940s and after. How can this delayed impact be explained? Until 1936 there was only one known representive of the australopithecine group: the Taung child or Australopithecus africanus of South Africa. It is common to hear today that the impact of the australopithecines on the field was delayed because the Taung skull was in the wrong geographical place, Africa rather than Asia, and its small brain was the wrong morphological combination because a bigger brain was expected (e.g., Cartmill et al., 1986; Hammond, 1988; Lewin, 1987: 47-62; Tobias, 1984: 45-46, 1992; Washburn, 1985).1 According to this historiographical interpretation, the field of paleoanthropology was dominated then by two “theories” which, when combined, could only have contributed to reduce the importance of the Taung recovery. Let us take them in turn from a critical perspective.