In getting my books, I have always been solicitous of an ample margin; this is not so much through any love of the thing in itself, however agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of penciling in suggested thoughts, agreements, and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general.
– Edgar Allan Poe, on his own inclinations for marginalia, 1844
Dr. Raymond Dart’s personal papers at the University of Witwatersrand are full of curiosities. Sketches, letters, newspaper clippings, back issues of scientific publications. A family photo or two. A copy of a congratulatory telegraph from Dr. Ales Hrlicka on the discovery of the Taung Child fossil. Most unexpected, however, is an undated, unsigned carbon copy of an unpublished manuscript.
This manuscript, The Fantasy of the Missing Link, reads like a young adult novella of paleoanthropological mystery and intrigue. Its fifty-six pages explore the story of a “monkey-like” fossil found by good ol’ Ginger (a ruffian employee) after a shock blast in the Buxton Limeworks Quarry in the Taung region of South Africa. Gentleman Joe, a Limeworks employee with some university training, notes that the fossil is “clearly a human ancestor” and proposes sending the fossil to “Professor Daye” for examination.
Characters in The Fantasy of the Missing Link are given only the thinly-veiled nom de plumes, and these pseudonyms have been doodled in, presumably by Dart, himself. (My graphology skills are rudimentary, at best.) Professor Elliot Smith is Professor Elland Swift and Sir Arthur Keith is shielded as Sir Andrew Kelly. The annotations speak to distancing, editorial comments, a sense of keeping the story in the realm of fiction – to say nothing of avoiding libel.
While, perhaps, not Newberry material, The Fantasy offers an intriguing participation in the public life of the Taung Child. There is a sense that the story of Dart’s discovery (and subsequent dismissal by the academic establishment) was the stuff of theater. There’s also the sense that Dart’s perspective “ought” to be championed as the manuscript is signed “A Loyalist.”