The Taung Child and the Bird of Prey
In 1995 Ron Clarke and I published an article hypothesizing that a large bird of prey had not only
collected the fauna associated with the Taung child, but had possibly killed and collected the Taung
child itself. This controversial piece of research stimulated a lively debate amongst colleagues
including an exchange in Nature concerning whether an eagle could actually lift the infant
australopithecine. This exchange produced much mirth amongst other scientists and a Taung child
limmerick contest was even held in the Journal of Improbable Research - some of which are in fact
very good! On the more serious side, our research stimulated a number of primatologists to begin
studying the collecting habits of large birds of prey around the world. In 2006, one particular
group of researchers led by Scott McGraw came up with a list of characters, or taphonomic
signatures that could be used to identify the hallmarks of an assemblage of bones collected by an
African Crowned Hawk Eagle. In particular they identified gouge marks in the orbits as being
critical to identifying large bird of prey feeding behaviour. This research led me to take a second
look at the Taung child where, much to my amazement, I found the very same characteristic marks
in the orbits! This research was published in 2006 in the American Journal of Physical
Anthropology. Case closed? And here is another recent paper on Taung with supplementary data.
To see images of the damage to the
Taung skull and to fossil and modern
monkeys click Here.
To see artwork depicting the
Taung bird of prey hypothesis
Click Here to see News articles about
the Taung Bird of Prey hypothesis.