23 Oct 2014 | By Sun International

The Taung Skull Site

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Besides the fantastic casinos, there is another ancient reason to visit the North West province. Labelled “the most important anthropological fossil of the twentieth century" other North West Province tourist attractions never stood a chance! The Taung skull, also known as the Taung Child, was the first hominid to be discovered on the entire continent. Later named Australopithecus africanus, the significance of this fossilised skull remains unchanged since its discovery in 1924 in Taung, a small town in the North West Province.

small town it may be, but Taung means “the place of the lion”. Discovered by unsuspecting quarry-workers, the Taung Baby, as it is sometimes known, was formally discovered and studied by Raymond Dart. This skull had been uncovered by a worker in a nearby limestone quarry in Buxton and sent off to Dart, along with a load of other fossils. Dart would return to Taung many years later to attempt to discover the exact location of the find, but by then, lime-mining had destroyed much of the area.

At first, Dart theorised that the Taung Child was killed by other hominids, but another palaeontologist argued that the child was probably killed by a carnivore, like a leopard. Recent studies have suggested, however, that the specific marks on the skull could indicate that it was killed and eaten by a large bird of prey.  The Taung Child is important because it supports Charles Darwin's concepts that the closest living relatives of humans are the African apes.

Now visitors to the province can discover mankind’s roots for themselves at the Taung Heritage Site. Offering proof of the existence of early man in Africa for more than a million years, the heritage site is not only one of the most fascinating North West Province tourist attractions; it is also one of the most important sites on the continent.