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Earlier attempts to date the Taung hominid type specimen of Australopithecus africanus Dart yielded conflicting results. Recent faunal studies pointed to an age of 2.3 myr. Radioisotopic results suggested 1.0 myr. New uranium studies reveal that the Thabaseek (the oldest Taung tufa) was not a closed system and that younger uranium entered the tufa after initial deposition, producing an apparent isotopic age younger than the age of deposition. The Thabaseek isotopic dates provide only a terminus ad quem and this technique is therefore not applicable to the older Taung tufas. Delson's dating (2.3 myr) of cercopithecoids from Hrdlicka's pinnacle ca. 50 m from the hominid site provides the best available approximation to the age of the hominid. In our new Taung excavation, stratigraphic analysis indicates that the hominid may somewhat predate most identified fauna. Sedimentologically the hominid matrix proves to be of fluvial deposition, and hence closely resembles one Hrdlicka deposit, both samples differing appreciably from all other Taung samples which bespeak eolian deposition. Thus, the conditions under which the hominid-bearing stratum was deposited were virtually identical to those pertaining to one of the Hrdlicka deposits. The newest results show that Taung was not the youngest South African australopithecine site and eliminate the discrepancy between the relative ages of the Taung A. africanus africanus and the Sterkfontein A. africanus transvaalensis.
The problem of how certain structure–function composites of high complexity could have evolved gradually and by natural selection has been with us at least since Charles Darwin admitted how difficult it was to explain, “his” theory, the origins of “organs of extreme perfection and complication” – such as the eyes of higher animals. Human language capacity is another evolutionary achievement of extraordinary perfection and complexity. Like other skilled human activities, it involves both central (neural) and peripheral (vocal and respiratory) complexes. The reduction of these to simpler building stones to which evolutionary principles may be applied is staggeringly difficult.
The need for this book has arisen from the listing as a World Heritage Site of the Fossil Hominid Sites of Sterkfontein, Swartkrans, Kromdraai and the Environs – popularly though not entirely accurately called the ‘Cradle of Humankind’! The World Heritage Centre falls under UNESCO, that is, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation. So, to understand the roots of this book, it is necessary to explore South Africa's relations with UNESCO and the events leading up to the listing of this country's first World Heritage Site in 1999.
Although South Africa was a founder member of UNESCO in 1946, it saw fit to withdraw from the Organisation in 1956, when the apartheid policies of the Union government were rising to a crescendo of racial intolerance and discrimination. With the perspective of hindsight, there is no doubt that it was UNESCO's vigorous programme against racism that was the cardinal factor in South Africa's decision to withdraw from the Organisation. A resolution adopted at the Fourth General Conference of UNESCO in 1949 called on the director-general, Dr Jaime Torres-Bodet, an esteemed Mexican poet, to (1) collect scientific materials concerning problems of race; (2) give wide diffusion to the scientific information collected; and (3) prepare an educational campaign based on this information. UNESCO in its early years embarked on the preparation of two sets of important publications, The Race Question in Modern Science and The Race Question in Modern Thought. Collectively these books constituted a scholarly and powerful indictment of racism (or racialism, as it was then still called). They were published less than a decade after the horrors that had been perpetrated during the Second World War in the name of race.
Torres-Bodet convened a Committee of Experts on Race Problems. These individuals were drawn from the fields of physical anthropology, sociology, social psychology and ethnology. Their deliberations led to the 1950 UNESCO Statement on Race (Paris, July 1950). This First Statement on Race opened with the ringing affirmation: ‘Scientists have reached general agreement in recognising that mankind is one: that all men belong to the same species,Homo sapiens.’
The story of the discovery of the Sterkfontein fossils begins in 1895. In that year Hans Paul Thomasset began quarrying for lime in the Sterkfontein area and especially in the Sterkfontein cave (Fig. 13.1).
About the same time, two other personalities with well-known names appeared on the scene. One was David Draper and the other Guglielmo Martinaglia; Draper's historical link was with the Kromdraai caves and Martinaglia's was with the Sterkfontein caves.
Early in the 1890s, Draper was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of London, the first South African-born Fellow to be elected to that distinguished Society. Draper contributed a number of papers to the London Society. At the same time he realised the need for a local Society. Largely as a result of his efforts, coupled with those of Dr Hugh Exton, there was formed in 1895 the Geological Society of South Africa. At its inaugural meeting in February 1895, Draper was elected its first secretary and treasurer.
At the first ordinary meeting of the new Society, held on 8 April 1895, Draper made the following important contribution to the discussion:
He had a short time ago visited the Kroomdraai caves [sic], or rather, the formations that once had been caves and he found them most interesting from a geological point of view. There was much to discover there. He, therefore, suggested that they make a beginning by making up a party to go and explore this interesting geological ground. They would make a thorough examination in four days, and the time would be well spent (Exton 1895: 10–11).
On 1 February 1895, Draper sent a box of bone-bearing breccia from Kromdraai to the British Museum of Natural History in South Kensington, London. The box of bones was accompanied by a letter dated 1 February 1895, part of which read:
Mass of rock containing a number of fragments of bones. This is from a cave on the farm Kromdraai situated about 16 miles west of Johannesburg. There is a bed of stalagmite with masses of rock in which the bone is abundant. It is really a cave deposit containing bone breccia or fragments of bone.
Many scholars have sought to relate the findings and interpretations of archaeology to the evolution of the brain and mind. In effect, such studies venture a statement that the techniques and symbols explicit and implicit in the archaeological record are related, more or less directly, to the cognitive abilities, mental competences and intelligences of evolving hominins, ancient and modern. It has however been evident for some time that it is not only from the archaeological record that we may glean evidence on the evolution of hominin intelligence. The size and form of endocranial casts of fossil hominins have added grist to the mill of those probing the evolution of hominin cerebration. The analogy and in a hopeful mood the homology between the brains and behaviours of human and non-human primates, and those inferred for our remote ancestors, have provided new pointers in the analysis of culture. Indeed they question the validity of the very concept of culture, as understood during most of the twentieth century. Ethological studies have shown some close resemblances between human and ape behaviours. Just over fifty years ago, the apparently human preserve of tool-using and tool-making led Kenneth Oakley to speak of Man the Tool-Maker, while he could write ‘… it is evident that man may be distinguished as the tool-making primate …’. Yet, in the 1980s and 1990s, Jane Goodall, Frédéric Joulian, William McGrew and C. and H. Boesch cast a flood of new light on the implemental activities of wild chimpanzees, just as H. Khroustov, in Moscow, did for chimpanzees in captivity in the early 1960s. Joulian went on to contest the longcherished paradigm that ‘culture’ is an exclusively human realm. The pursuit by various groups of West African chimpanzees of nut-cracking in some populations, but not in others of the same species, strongly suggested that such behavioural traits were transmitted by epigenetic means. In a word, they were learned behaviour of a kind which, conventionally, has been assigned to human cultural behaviour. Based on our analysis of H. habilis endocasts and on a review of the inferred cultural and social aspects of this hominin, it is argued here that H. habilis was able to speak.
Nombre de scientifiques ont cherché à rattacher découvertes et interprétations archéologiques à l’évolution du cerveau et de l'intellect.
This Round Table is a celebration of Franco–South African collaboration in the fields of palaeoanthropology and archaeology. In this cooperative endeavour, we who pursue our lives and researches in South Africa have been at the receiving end of extraordinary largesse from France, mediated with sagacity and imagination by the Embassy of France in South Africa and the CNRS. This conference is the latest manifestation of this fruitful inter-hemispheric interaction. It is our hope that the research opportunities and facilities which South Africa is able to offer in abundance and the ‘Open House’ policy towards visiting researchers and students which we have pursued for nearly half a century may effect a certain symmetry in this relationship.
It is symbolic of this cross-pollination that this symposium has been organised by a French scientist, Francesco d'Errico, and a South African one, Lucinda Backwell. For their combined efforts, coupled with their manifest organisational skills, we who participated in the meeting are deeply indebted. To them and their helpers, a sincere expression of thanks is due.
Personally, I convey my gratitude to the organisers for their very kind thought in dedicating the Round Table to myself, a most touching and generous gesture which I deeply appreciate.
A fitting time was chosen for the holding of this conference: worthy of celebration is the fact that fifty years ago Francis Crick and James Watson published their historic paper announcing the double helix model for the structure of DNA; another cause of rejoicing is the award of a Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine for 2002 to Sydney Brenner, who obtained his first four degrees at the University of the Witwatersrand and is also a Doctor of Science honoris causa of this University. In part commemoration of both these historic events, a meeting is to be held next week, in tandem with this one, on the Human Genome in Africa, organised by Dr Wilmot James of the South African Human Sciences Research Council.
Cette Table Ronde est une célébration de la collaboration franco-sud-africaine dans les domaines de la paléoanthropologie et de l'archéologie.
There is always a temptation to treat an endocast as if it were a ‘fossil brain’, no matter how often one repeats the caveat that it is at most an impression of a brain on the skull. It is almost impossible to avoid this identification of an endocast with a brain when one analyzes endocasts for information about the evolution of the brain, but this rarely leads to serious problems in actual work with the endocasts.
Harry Jerison, 1973
It is just over a quarter of a century since Harry Jerison published the first edition of his seminal work, Evolution of the Brain and Intelligence (1973). At the time and in the decades since then, we see it as one of the most significant paleo-neurobiological landmarks which heralded the final quarter of the twentieth century. As we enter the twenty-first century, that work remains ineluctably a signpost for the coming era. It is pleasurable indeed to offer homage to Dr Jerison – who was born one day before me in what seems to have been something of an annus mirabilis, 1925 – and to offer him my thanks for his inspiration and his friendship.
When we consider the ancient hominins, one is struck by the fact of how few have yielded good natural endocranial casts (endocasts).
For over 40 years South Africa and for over 25 years East Africa have been yielding fossilized remains of creatures identified on their bony structure as lowly members of the Hominidae or human family. From five sites in the Republic of South Africa (Taung, Sterkfontein, Kromdraai, Makapansgat and Swartkrans) and from three sites in the Republic of Tanzania (Garusi, Olduvai and Peninj) have emerged a considerable number of hominid fossils of the Lower and Middle Pleistocene. Most of them have been classified as members of an extinct hominid genus called by R. A. Dart, the discoverer of the first specimen, Australopithecus. Although variable among themselves, the structural features which aligu these fossils with the Hominidae, rather than with the family of the apes or Pongidae, are as follows:—
(1) Australopithecus showed modifications of his skeleton—especially the pelvis, femur, ankle and foot—which permit us to infer that he walked upright, even though such modifications had not progressed as far as in hominids of the genus Homo.
(2) The calvaria or brain-case of Australopithecus was characterized by a number of hominid features, such as marked flexion of the axis of the cranial base; forward displacement of the occipital condyles by which the skull articulates with the vertebral column; a small, low nuchal area at the back of the base of the cranium, for the attachment of those muscles which tether the back of the cranium to the trunk—the last two features suggesting a different, more man-like poise of the cranium on the spine; the consistent development, early in life, of a pyramidal mastoid process as in man, and unlike the apes in which this process develops inconsistently and then only later in life (Schultz 1950).
(3) The canine teeth of Australopithecus, like those of Homo, lacked the enlargement and marked interlocking which characterizes the upper and lower teeth of the apes—correspondingly, Australopithecus lacked the diastemata or gaps which, in apes, lodge the projecting tips of the enlarged canines.
(4) Another dental characteristic shared by Australopithecus with Homo was the bicuspid structure of the first lower premolar tooth: in apes, this tooth does not possess two sub-equal cusps but is a cutting or sectorial tooth with one predominating cusp, like a canine tooth.
(5) Although the brain-size of Australopithecus (as inferred from the volumetric capacity of the brain-case) was no bigger than that of some largerbrained apes, the shape or morphology of the brain, as preserved in endocranial casts, approached more closely to that of early Homo than to that of the apes. We have, however, no direct evidence whether these external observable differences between the brains of Australopithecus and of apes were paralleled by internal, microscopic, structural differences such as those which have been demonstrated between modern man and modern apes.
(6) Many other detailed morphological features of the skull, the teeth and other bones of Australopithecus showed human resemblances.
The last decade has seen a considerable revival of interest in the physical anthropology of the Bushman-Hottentot peoples. In the period 1952-5 no fewer than 34 papers with a bearing on this topic have been published, of a total of 46 in the decade 1946-55. This contrasts with 7 works in this category in the four years 1948-51. The subject-matter has been shared fairly evenly between studies on the living and those on skeletal remains. In the former category are studies on Nama Hottentots (Wells), Strandlopers (Dart), Koranas (Grobbelaar, Tobias), Sandawe (Trevor), Lake Chrissie Bushmen (Toerien), Northern Bushmen (Wells, Gusinde, Erikson, Williams, Tobias), River Bushmen (Hurwitz and Harington), Central Bushmen (Tobias), hybrids (Trevor, Wells, Tobias), and on blood groups (Zoutendyck, Kopec and Mourant, Grobbelaar). In the second category are craniological studies by Cosnett, Dart, Drennan, Dreyer and Meiring, Grobbelaar, Hope, Keen, Sauter, Tobias, Toerien, Wells, on a variety of recent, proto-historic, and prehistoric remains. Two thirds of all these studies have been focused primarily upon Bushmen. Furthermore, plans for additional anthropometrical and anthroposcopic surveys of surviving Bushmen are at present being elaborated in the Department of Anatomy of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg—from which Department, under the general direction and inspiration of Professor Raymond A. Dart, more than half the studies referred to have emanated. It is hoped that, in the coming years, a series of expeditions will visit Bushman tribes, more particularly in those areas which have not hitherto been studied from a physical anthropological point of view.
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