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Home arrow History arrow A Global History of Child Death: Mortality, Burial, and Parental Attitudes


The First Children

In 1924, the remains of the Taung Child, one of the first prehistoric children, were found in Bechuanaland (present day Botswana). The finding marked the discovery of a new species; the three year old child was determined to have originated from Australopithecus africanus, an African hominid that existed five to two million years ago. The child was found cast in limestone, thus very well preserved. He was likely killed by an eagle or another large predatory bird. In 1975 thirteen sets of remains were found in Hadar, Ethiopia. Four of them were of children under the age of five, and are believed to have evolved from the genus of the Taung child. This group has been referred to as the first family as “The presence of children in the group implies that Australopithecus functioned in communal and biological familial units”.6

Between 200,000 to 400,000 years ago Homo erectus evolved into the new group archaic Homo sapiens. Skull bones thinned, the forehead became vertical, “brain volume increased and neurophysiological evolutionary qualities developed”. With this development maturation delayed, and subsequently the need for maternal care increased. Through this increased nurturing the mother-child interaction emerged; a phenomenon characterizing Homo sapiens.7 Evidence of this extended parenting is apparent in many of the child burial sites that have been discovered in the last century where infants and children are found ritually buried.

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