Australopithecus from Sterkfontein Caves, South Africa

Part of the Vertebrate Paleobiology and Paleoanthropology book series (VERT)


Since the discovery by Robert Broom of the first adult Australopithecus at Sterkfontein in 1936, a large quantity of fossil remains of this genus, consisting of crania, teeth and postcranial bones, has been excavated from those cave infills. They have generally been considered as belonging to one species, Australopithecus africanus, but there is now abundant proof that a second species is represented by many of the fossils. This second species should be classified as Australopithecus prometheus, the name given by Raymond Dart in 1948 to such fossils from Makapansgat (MLD 1 and MLD 2). A. prometheus is distinguished from A. africanus by having a more vertical occiput, larger, bulbous-cusped cheek teeth, a flatter face, lower frontal squame, and sagittal crest in the males. An almost complete skeleton of Australopithecus (StW 573) from an early deposit in the cave belongs to this second species, and for the first time this discovery made it possible to indisputably associate postcranial anatomy with specific cranial anatomy. It is also now possible to clearly distinguish males and females of each species, and to state with conviction that StW 53, a cranium excavated in 1976 and widely identified as Homo habilis, is in fact a male A. africanus, virtually the same as the TM 1511 cranium found by Broom 40 years earlier.


Australopithecus prometheus Homo habilis Makapansgat StW 53 Taxonomy Taung 



I wish to express my thanks to Richard Leakey and the organizers of the workshop at Stony Brook for inviting me to participate and for providing me with the opportunity to discuss crucial issues concerning Australopithecus at Sterkfontein. I am very grateful to the many donors whose collective generosity has made possible the last 46 years of continuous excavation at Sterkfontein. They include the Leakey Foundation, the Wenner Gren Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Mott Foundation, the National Geographic Society, the South African National Research Foundation, the South African Department of Science and Technology, the Palaeontological Scientific Trust, and the Embassy of France in South Africa. I also wish to acknowledge Robert Broom, John Robinson, Phillip Tobias, and Alun Hughes, who over many years have contributed to the uncovering of fossil material on which this research is based. I am also indebted to Meraewin Clarke Ferreira and Kathleen Kuman for their valued assistance in the preparation of this manuscript.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Human EvolutionUniversity of the WitwatersrandJohannesburgSouth Africa

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