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In Life of Bone, artists and scientists have collaborated in an exploration of human origins and evolution. The Taung Child is among the fossils on show.
ART and science collide at the Origins Centre at Wits University, where the Taung Child has taken up residence for the duration of May as part of the Life of Bone exhibition.


The Taung ChildThe Taung ChildLife of Bone is a book as well as an exhibition and was borne out of a series of interactions between artists, scientists and writers whose work involved the study of bones and fossils. “Our explorations mean that we have dealt with issues of human origin, evolution, human consciousness, deep time, lineage, ancestry and belonging,” says the co-ordinator of the project, Joni Brenner.

Three artists – Brenner, Gerhard Marx and Karel Nel – have contributed to the exhibit with their interpretations of the presence and meaning of skulls or bones. Brenner works with portraiture and paints watercolour studies of skulls; Marx creates images using skulls, star maps and root systems; and Nel’s work incorporates dust collected from places such as Taung, Swartkrans and Soweto.

The scientists involved in the project have dealt with bones in their disciplines as anthropologists, geneticists and social scientists doing human rights work.

As part of the exhibition, the Taung Child will be on display. It is a fossilised skull of an Australopithecus africanus or “southern ape of Africa”, which was discovered in 1924 by Raymond Dart.


The Origins Centre at Wits UniversityThe Origins Centre at Wits UniversityThe fossil is estimated to be 2,5 million years old and provided early evidence of upright, bipedal walking in humans. It is believed that the africanus was three years old at the time of death.

Also at the exhibition will be fragments from the Border Cave, which is an early human skull, and a chimpanzee skull.

The exhibition opened runs until 31 May. The Origins Centre is open seven days a week from 9am until 5pm, except for 18 May, which is the day of the municipal elections. Tickets are R45, but if people want to tour the whole museum, tickets will be the usual R75.

There will also be four walkabouts with the artists on each Saturday. The dates are 7, 14, 21 and 28 May. Tickets cost R55 and the walks are limited to 50 people; booking is necessary. It can be done by emailing Starting times are 10am for 10.30am.

Teachers are encouraged to bring learner groups to the exhibition, and can do so by emailing Brenner at to make arrangements. The Wits School of Education will also be hosting a teachers’ workshop on 24 May about how to use the book in classrooms. Booking is essential and can be done by emailing Brenner.

The book is being officially launched at the exhibition.

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