The origin of the name of the small town of Taung, meaning “place of the lion”, is disputed. Much of the literature available states that the town was named for an 18th-century chief of a Tswana tribe called the Bataung. The chief’s name was Tau, the Tswana word for “lion”. This explanation, however, is keenly disputed in some quarters.
In the early 1900s, lime-mining was a key industry in Taung. In 1924, a worker at the Buxton limestone quarry discovered the small skull of a hominid specimen. It was subsequently identified as the fossilised skull of a juvenile Australopithecus africanus, a species that could walk upright but still climbed trees. It was dated at about 2,5-million years old and named the Taung Child, catapulting the town to new fame.
Taung is today part of the Unesco-proclaimed World Heritage Site that includes the Cradle of Humankind. Unfortunately the skull is not kept at Taung, but to commemorate its place of discovery a plinth was erected at what is now known at the Taung Heritage Site, overlooking the old Buxton Village.
The site is closed for the moment, however, as construction is carried out on a new access road. Once it is reopened, plans include a small exhibition on the skull and other discoveries.
The site is particularly scenic, as streams of water make their way from the limestone cliffs into a series of spectacularly blue pools named Blue Pools. This is a popular spot for picnics and hiking.
Taung is situated on the N18 between Vryburg and Jan Kempdorp.
Look out for
The Boipelo Game Reserve is close enough to be visited with ease. Just 150 hectares in size, it nevertheless supports a number of game species and more than 100 species of birds.
The Taung Dam is to be found on the Kolong River, 17 kilometres out of town, and is another popular picnic spot.
Dinkwaneng, about 20 kilometres away, has good examples of San rock engravings, near a village called Manthe.
Locally produced arts and crafts can be sourced at the Mmabana Cultural Centre, notably beadwork, quilting, sewing, sculpture and pottery.