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A Question of Numbers

- Wits University

Does the fossil sample for Australopithecus africanus only represent one species. Professor Lee Berger takes on this sticky question.

Australopithecus africanus is considered one of the best-known species of hominid ever discovered. It also has one of the most abundant fossil records of any hominid species.  It is known from at least four sites – Taung, Sterkfontein, Makapansgat and Gladysvale. Yet, despite it being so well known and used in the scientific literature since 1925, it is also highly controversial, with scientists having debated for almost 80 years if the fossil sample attributed to africanus actually only represents one species, or more than one species. The answer has eluded palaeoanthropologists for decades. Lee Berger takes on this sticky question and tries to examine the original fossil record from these sites in order to understand the complexities of the hominid fossil record attributed to the first species of ancient human relative ever recognised in Africa.