News | August 27, 2014

SA's Taung Child's Skull, Brain Not Human-like in Expansion

CT scan disproves support for similar infant brain development to that of modern humans

SA's Taung Child's Skull CT Systems

This is the Taung Child fossil at the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University.

SA's Taung Child's Skull CT Systems

This is Dr. Kristian Carlson in the Microfocus X-ray Computed Tomography facility at Wits University.

August 27, 2014 — The Taung Child, South Africa's premier hominin discovered 90 years ago by Wits University Professor Raymond Dart, never seizes to transform and evolve the search for our collective origins.

By subjecting the skull of the first australopith discovered to the latest technologies in the Wits University Microfocus X-ray Computed Tomography (CT) facility, researchers are now casting doubt on theories that Australopithecus africanus shows the same cranial adaptations found in modern human infants and toddlers — in effect disproving current support for the idea that this early hominin shows infant brain development in the prefrontal region similar to that of modern humans.

The results were published online in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), in an article titled: “New High Resolution CT Data of the Taung Partial Cranium and Endocast and Their Bearing on Metopism and Hominin Brain Evolution.”

The Taung Child has historical and scientific importance in the fossil record as the first and best example of early hominin brain evolution, and theories have been put forward that it exhibits key cranial adaptations found in modern human infants and toddlers.

To test the ancientness of this evolutionary adaptation, Dr. Kristian J. Carlson, Senior Researcher from the Evolutionary Studies Institute at the University of the Witwatersrand, and colleagues, Prof. Ralph L. Holloway from Columbia University and Douglas C. Broadfield from Florida Atlantic University, performed an in silico dissection of the Taung fossil using high-resolution computed tomography.

"A recent study has described the roughly 3 million-year-old fossil, thought to have belonged to a 3 to 4-year-old, as having a persistent metopic suture and open anterior fontanelle, two features that facilitate post-natal brain growth in human infants when their disappearance is delayed," said Carlson.

Comparisons with the existing hominin fossil record and chimpanzee variation do not support this evolutionary scenario.

Citing deficiencies in how the Taung fossil material has been recently assessed, the researchers suggest physical evidence does not incontrovertibly link features of the Taung skull, or its endocast, to early prefrontal lobe expansion, a brain region implicated in many human behaviors.

The authors also debate the previously offered theoretical basis for this adaptation in A. africanus. By refuting the presence of these features in the Taung Child, the researchers dispute whether these structures were selectively advantageous in hominin evolution, particularly in australopiths.

Thus, results of the new study show that there is still no evidence for this kind of skull adaptation that evolved before Homo, nor is there evidence for a link between such skull characteristics and the proposed accompanying early prefrontal lobe expansion, Carlson said.

Related Content

New Study Evaluates Head CT Examinations and Patient Complexity
News | Neuro Imaging | May 17, 2019
Computed tomography (CT) of the head uses special X-ray equipment to help assess head injuries, dizziness and other...
FDA Clears Aidoc's AI Solution for Flagging Pulmonary Embolism
Technology | Artificial Intelligence | May 15, 2019
Artificial intelligence (AI) solutions provider Aidoc has been granted U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)...
Gorilla Undergoes Follow-up CT Scan at Boston's Franklin Park Zoo

Gigi, a western lowland gorilla at Fanklin Park Zoo (Boston), recently underwent a computed tomography (CT) scan as part of efforts to identify the cause of ongoing health issues in recent months. Image courtesy of Zoo New England

News | Computed Tomography (CT) | May 06, 2019
Gigi, a western lowland gorilla, was recently put under anesthesia at Franklin Park Zoo (Boston) so the zoo’s...
Aidoc Raises $27 Million in Series B Funding
News | Artificial Intelligence | May 02, 2019
Radiology artificial intelligence (AI) solutions provider Aidoc announced a $27 million investment, bringing its total...
Canon Medical Installs First CT Scanner With AI in Belgium
News | Computed Tomography (CT) | May 02, 2019
May 2, 2019 — Canon Medical has installed the Aquilion One Genesis, one of the first...
Physicians, Patients Talking Less About Lung Cancer Screening
News | Lung Cancer | April 29, 2019
Smoking rates are down nationally, but so are discussions among physicians and smokers about lung cancer screening,...
Video Plus Brochure Helps Patients Make Lung Cancer Scan Decision

Image courtesy of the American Thoracic Society

News | Lung Cancer | April 19, 2019
A short video describing the potential benefits and risks of low-dose computed tomography (CT) screening for lung...
FDA Clears GE's Deep Learning Image Reconstruction Engine
Technology | Computed Tomography (CT) | April 19, 2019
GE Healthcare has received 510(k) clearance from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of its Deep Learning Image...
Videos | RSNA | April 03, 2019
ITN Editor Dave Fornell takes a tour of some of the most interesting new medical imaging technologies displa