Submitted 24 June 2023 by Andrea Taylor and Clément Zanolli
The year 2024 will mark the centenary of the discovery of the ‘Taung Child’, a cranium and mandible of a juvenile individual attributed to the species Australopithecus africanus by Raymond Dart and published in Nature the following year (1925: vol. 115, pp. 195–199). Highly controversial from the start, the specimen itself is exceptional in its preservation. The face is complete, a rarity even in adult fossil remains, offering a first glimpse into early ontogeny in Australopithecus, and the skull preserves a natural endocast that marked the beginning of a new discipline in paleoanthropology—hominin paleoneurology. During the first half of the 20th century, most paleoanthropologists worked in the northern hemisphere and hypothesized that hominins had evolved there. The ‘Taung Child’ was scientifically and socio-politically at odds with this hypothesis, sparking decades of controversy. Apart from the unprecedented paleobiological information revealed by the ‘Taung Child’, this discovery sparked an intense debate on early human origins, shifting our roots from Eurasia to Africa. Even if the historical context has changed since Dart’s publication of the specimen, the ‘Taung Child’, and more generally the African paleoanthropological record, are still intertwined scientifically, educationally, socioculturally, and politically. While many more fossils of Australopithecus have been found since 1924, the ‘Taung Child’ remains an iconic fossil that represents a paradigm shift in our understanding of human evolution.
To celebrate the centenary of this remarkable discovery, the Journal of Human Evolution is opening a call for papers related to the science and history of the ‘Taung Child’ and Pliocene hominins that will be part of a Virtual Special Issue (VSI), entitled “African hominin evolution a hundred years after the discovery of the Taung Child: Progress and perspectives”. The journal welcomes synthetic reviews that address the historical impact of the discovery of ‘Taung Child’ on paleoanthropology, and/or provide (re)analysis of existing data as well as hypothesis-driven, data-based research papers that include novel data. If you are interested in contributing to this VSI, please send an email including a provisional title, the author names and an abstract (max. 300 words) to co-Editors-in-Chief Andrea Taylor ([email protected]) and Clément Zanolli ([email protected]). Abstract submissions will be considered through September 15, 2023. The deadline for full submissions is January 15, 2024.
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