Did you know?
Mrs. Ples has a cranial capacity of 485cc, well above the modern ape average of 350-400 cc.
The Mrs Ples skull, found in the Sterkfontein Caves at the Cradle of Humankind near Johannesburg, was first revealed to the world in April 1947 by Dr Robert Broom of the Transvaal Museum of Natural History. She was an instant palaeontology celebrity and remains so today.
The idea that South Africa was the birthplace of humankind began to take hold when Professor Raymond Dart, of the WITS Department of Anatomy, was given a skull fossil on 24 November 1924. He named it Australopithecus africanus meaning ‘southern ape of Africa', but it is more commonly known as the Taung Child.
While much of the scientific community was at first extremely sceptical, Dart had the support of Dr Robert Broom, the most famous South African palaeontologist. The eccentric Broom set about vindicating Dart.
After enquiries about the limestone mines and caves in the vicinity of Pretoria and Johannesburg, he visited Sterkfontein in August 1936 and within a week found fragmentary fossil evidence of Australopithecus at Sterkfontein.
But it was not until April 1947 that he would find an almost perfect adult ape-man Sterkfontein skull - a discovery nicknamed Mrs Ples that would rank alongside Dart's earlier find.
While the Mrs Ples skull was small, about the size of a chimpanzee, it was obvious the creature stood upright. Broom at first thought it was a female from the genus Plesianthropus (almost human), hence Mrs Ples. But it has since been identified as an Australopithecus africanus, and probably a juvenile male.
The discovery of the historical skull at Sterkfontein provided irrefutable proof of the existence of ape-men and the origins of human existence in Africa. It is housed in the Transvaal Museum of Natural History in Pretoria.
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Transvaal Museum of Natural History
Tel: +27 (0) 12 322 7632