Man, Time, and Fossils: The Story of Evolution

By Ruth Moore | Go to book overview

XV
DART AND BROOM SOUTH AFRICA: APE-MEN

MANY of the great land masses underwent the mauling of ice and the upheavals of mountain-making. But not South Africa. With a few exceptions, this huge tip of land has stood high and dry and little disturbed since the time when there were no forests on the earth and the primitive fish swarming the Paleozoic seas were the most advanced form of life.

For millions of years South Africa has been a secure platform upon which life could develop. Thanks to this unusually stable background, the sprawling subcontinent between the Zambesi and the Cape might well have been considered a likely place to look for fossils dating far back, perhaps even to the misty unknown beginnings of man.

The obvious, however, is often both overlooked and ignored. The world took little notice when baboon and ape skulls of types that had long since disappeared from the earth began to be found in South African caves. There was genuine surprise when a quarryman named M. de Bruyn, working in a lime deposit near Taungs, blasted out a small skull that he recognized as unusual. It looked almost like that of a human. He sent it to Dr. Raymond A. Dart, professor of anatomy at Witwatersrand University, at Johannesburg.

As Dart cleaned it and studied it, his excitement grew. The face was almost complete. The lower jaw was there and also all the teeth, plus the whole of the right side of the brain cast. The teeth were milk teeth, with the first true molars just beginning to function. Clearly the skull was that of a young higher ape or

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