the answer to a scientific "who-done-it?" has revealed a chilling fact: we used to be bird food.
scientists announced on thursday they had definitive proof that the "taung child", a 2-million year old apeman skull famed as one of the most dramatic human ary finds, was killed and eaten by an eagle.
"birds used to eat us and in doing so they shaped our behaviour," said dr lee berger, a palaeoanthropologist at johannesburg's university of the witwatersrand.
"birds of prey are one of the few things that some modern primates have special calls or alarms for," he told reuters.
berger said the child had probably been scooped up by an eagle and taken to its nest, where its eyes were ripped out for dinner. the child's skull fell out of the nest, only to be found almost 2 million years later.
placing us on the eagle's menu may also explain other aspects of human , from walking , which could present a smaller to an attacker, to our tendency to live in groups.
"these birds would have been after the most vulnerable members of the group," berger said, a scenario which may have triggered measures of protection.
this murder most foul occurred 2 million years ago but the , an african crowned eagle -- also known as the crowned hawk-eagle -- still circles the skies and large eagles still prey on small primates in africa.
unearthed in south africa in 1924, the taung child shook the scientific world when raymond dart suggested in 1925 that it was a higher form of primate which he dubbed australopithecus africanus, or "man-ape of southern africa."
few in the scientific establishment were willing to accept then what has since become wisdom: that humanity evolved in africa.
for decades it was believed that the famous taung child had been slain by a or a sabre-toothed cat.
but 10 years ago berger and a suggested that the child, who was about 3 or 4 years old when it died, was killed by a large bird of prey.
this remained an educated guess until researchers at ohio state university submitted a paper on primate remains from african crowned eagle kills which berger was asked to review.
the scientists found several key features of bone damage which birds of prey kills from those of big cats.
"these clues were puncture marks in the base of the eye sockets of primates, made when the eagles ripped the eyes out of the dead monkeys with their sharp talons and beaks.
it was a marker that others hadn't noted before, that linked eagles definitively to the kill," berger said.
intrigued, berger re-examined the taung child skull, which is perhaps the most analysed hominid in the world.
"i almost dropped down when i looked into the eyes of the skull as i saw the marks... they were perfect examples of eagle damage. thousands of scientists, including myself, had overlooked this damage," berger said.
"it just shows that you can never stop looking. just because something has been for years doesn't mean that it can't still tell us new things," berger said.