Taung Child Poetry, Morning Post

Although I'm wrapping up my archival work with the Taung Child (off to other fossils!), here's one last africanus hurrah courtesy of the Wits archives.  Not quite as complexly juxtaposed as  "Ode to Australopithecus," it is an interesting demonstration of poetic art, craft, cultural more, and science wedged into three stanzas. 

Campy, sure.  But oddly compelling.

 

"Australopithecus africanus" by R.W.M.,  The Morning Post , undated. (courtesy of the Raymond Dart Archive, University of Witwatersrand)

"Australopithecus africanus" by R.W.M., The Morning Post, undated. (courtesy of the Raymond Dart Archive, University of Witwatersrand)

Marginalia: The Fantasy of the Missing Link

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  Most unexpected, however, is an undated, unsigned carbon copy of an unpublished manuscript.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.

All parts of the story are here.  Dart (or Daye), Darwin, and discovery of a fossil ancestor at Taung.  From  The Fantasy of the Missing Link .  Courtesy of the University of Witwatersrand, Raymond Dart Archive. 

All parts of the story are here.  Dart (or Daye), Darwin, and discovery of a fossil ancestor at Taung.  From The Fantasy of the Missing Link.  Courtesy of the University of Witwatersrand, Raymond Dart Archive. 

 Revisionist?  Distancing?  Avoiding libel?  Certainly "creative" takes on Darwin.  Dart's marginalia and notes on the manuscript.  From  The Fantasy of the Missing Link .  Courtesy of the University of Witwatersrand, Raymond Dart Archive.  Court

 Revisionist?  Distancing?  Avoiding libel?  Certainly "creative" takes on Darwin.  Dart's marginalia and notes on the manuscript.  From The Fantasy of the Missing Link.  Courtesy of the University of Witwatersrand, Raymond Dart Archive.  Court

 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.”

 

The Taung Child Box: Arts & Crafts

In honor of (sort of) finishing up the Taung Child chapter for Famous Fossils, Hidden Histories: a paleo arts-n-crafts project, or a 3D cardboard model of the Taung Child and a replica plywood box.

The Box, the Taung Child,  Adventures With the Missing Link.  Author's "artistic" attempts.  (photo: L. Pyne)

The Box, the Taung Child, Adventures With the Missing Link. Author's "artistic" attempts.  (photo: L. Pyne)

 

The original casting of the Taung Child fossil had incredible ramifications for how the fossil was interpreted within the relatively new science of the early twentieth-century paleo-community.  Casts of the fossil were not sent to British scientific circles; without access to the fossil (except through photographs in the 1925 Nature paper describing the find), the scientific community had little choice but to dismiss the fossil until others had the opportunity to study the fossil with careful scrutiny. 

 

Indeed, casts of fossils, particularly in the first part of the twentieth-century, had huge ramifications for how experts, non-experts, and museums could engage with fossils that extended beyond the actual, tangible, fossil itself.  When Raymond Dart sent the Taung Child to R.F. Damon & Company (in London) to create a cast of fossil skull and mandible in 1925, casts were sent to the British Exhibition at Wembley as well as other museums and researchers around the world – the cast became an ambassador of the fossil and its research paradigm.

 

According to R.F. Damon & Company's correspondence with Dart, “anyone” could order a copy of the cast for a mere £15 (or approximately $1300 today.)  However, those “everymen” were not the intellectual giants of the anatomical community – the eminent Sir Arthur Keith could barely hide his disgust at having to view a cast of the fossil with the rather unwashed masses making their ways through the Wembley exhibition. [1]

Laser cutting slices for the Taung Child crania.  (photo: L. Pyne)

Laser cutting slices for the Taung Child crania.  (photo: L. Pyne)

Gluing, gluing, gluing.  (photo: L. Pyne)

Gluing, gluing, gluing.  (photo: L. Pyne)

Assembling and painting The Box. (photo: L. Pyne)

Assembling and painting The Box. (photo: L. Pyne)

The scan for this cardboard model comes thanks to ATOR; I compiled the slices for the cardboard assembly, courtesy of 123DMake.  The box is modified to fit the crania is a composite of designs from Thingiverse.


References

[1] Raymond A. Dart with Dennis Craig, Adventures With the Missing Link (Harper & Brothers, NY, n.d.); Roger Lewin, Bones of Contention: Controversies in the Search for Human Origins, vol. 2nd (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997); John Reader, Missing Links: The Hunt for Earliest Man (London: Penguin Group, 1981).