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Tue, Nov 17

How humans evolved supersize brains

There it was, sitting on the mantelpiece, staring at her with hollow eyes and a naked grin. She could not stop staring back. It looked distinctly like the fossilized skull of an extinct baboon. That was the sort of thing Josephine Salmons was likely to know. At the time — 1924 — she was one of the only female students of anatomy attending the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. On this particular day she was visiting her friend Pat Izod, whose father managed a quarry company that had been excavating limestone near the town of Taung. Workers had unearthed numerous fossils during the excavation, and the Izods had kept this one as a memento. Salmons brought news of the skull to her professor, Raymond Dart, an anthropologist with a particular interest in the brain. He was incredulous. Very few primate fossils had been uncovered this far south in Africa. If the Taung site really housed such fossils, it would be an invaluable treasure trove. The next morning Salmons brought Dart the skull, and he could see that she was right: The skull was undeniably simian.

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