Putting a Face on a Fossil: Early Taung Child Reconstructions

Putting a face on a fossil is a significant part of any paleo-project.  The face – whether a reconstruction, a sketch, a diorama, or a model – takes a static object (the original fossil) and gives it dimensionality, a body, even a persona as viewers project emotion and feeling onto the reconstruction.   Putting a face on a fossil transforms the object into something dynamic. 


Putting a face on the Taung Child began rather early in the fossil’s life.  In 1925, South African scientist, Dr. Robert Broom, visited Dr. Raymond Dart at the University of Witwatersrand to discuss the Taung fossil and its evolutionary significance.  Dart kept Broom’s sketches of what Broom imagined the young australopith to look like.

Sketch of Taung Child (aged, perhaps? post-juvenile?) from Robert Broom's 1925 visit. Courtesy of the University of Witwatersrand, Raymond Dart archive. (photo: L. Pyne)

Sketch of Taung Child (aged, perhaps? post-juvenile?) from Robert Broom's 1925 visit. Courtesy of the University of Witwatersrand, Raymond Dart archive. (photo: L. Pyne)



And on a lighter more comical note, Dart kept this framed sketch of the of a young, impish Puck-like sprite of a hominid in his office at the university.  The sketch is undated, but correlates with other sketches and papers from the late 1920s.

"Portrait of Dart's Baby" artist E.E. Undated sketches from Dart's papers, ca. late 1920s.  Courtesy of the University of Witwatersrand, Raymond Dart archive. (photo: L. Pyne)

"Portrait of Dart's Baby" artist E.E. Undated sketches from Dart's papers, ca. late 1920s.  Courtesy of the University of Witwatersrand, Raymond Dart archive. (photo: L. Pyne)