In 1924, Raymond Dart found the first australopith fossil and named it Autralopithecus africanus, or "African southern Ape". The dry environment of the South African cave where the fossil was found helped to preserve the face, mandible and even in nearly perfect endocast of the brain. A. africanus fossil remains have been found in South Africa at locations such as Sterkfontein, Makapansgat, and Taung.

 A. africanus and Australopithecus afarensis have similar post-cranial morphologies and both exhibit a high degree of sexual dimorphism. However, A. africanus' derived cranial morphology includes a higher forehead, slightly larger cranial capacity of approximately 461 cc, less pronounced brow ridge, smaller canines and large molars. The inferiorly placed foramen magnum, and the morphology of the pelvis demonstrates that A. afarensis was bipedal.

The type specimen for A. africanus is the Taung 1, or the “Taung Child”, which was found at Taung (South Africa) dates between 3 million and a little less than 2.5 million years ago.