National Science Week 2017: Science rocks!

It is National Science Week and the newest edition of Science Spaza, supported by DST-NRF CoE Palaeo, is celebrating palaeosciences! The edition is titled “Science rocks!” and features a profile interview on the work of Aviwe Matiwane, a PhD candidate in palaeo-botany at Rhodes University, as well as many other ‘rock science’ and related facts … Continued

Cultural flexibility was key for early humans to survive extreme dry periods in southern Africa

MEDIA RELEASE FROM WITS UNIVERSITY DATE: 26 July 2017 The flexibility and ability to adapt to changing climates by employing various cultural innovations allowed communities of early humans to survive through a prolonged period of pronounced aridification. The early human techno-tradition, known as Howiesons Poort (HP), associated with Homo sapiens who lived in southern Africa about 66 … Continued

Homo naledi’s surprisingly young age opens up more questions on where we come from

Wits University Media Release – 9 May 2017 Johannesburg. – Scientists today announced that the Rising Star Cave system has revealed yet more important discoveries, only a year and a half after it was announced that the richest fossil hominin site in Africa had been discovered, and that it contained a new hominin species named … Continued

The Lake Kariba expedition: Fossil adventures in Zimbabwe

At the start of the year, palaeontologist Kimberley Chapelle joined Prof Jonah Choiniere and a team of “Palaeo Pirates” on an expedition to explore Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe. Fortunately, she lived to tell the tale. Below she recalls the adventure, in her own words: “In January 2017, I was unbelievably lucky enough to be part … Continued

CoE Palaeo grantee a FameLab Finalist

24 March 2017 Congratulations to Aviwe Matiwane, who has today at the semi-finals of FameLab SA 2017 held at Wits, been chosen as a Finalist! Aviwe spends her time between Rhodes University and the Albany Museum looking at Glossopteris that were deposited on the supercontinent of Gondwana. She is a recipient of a Doctoral Bursary … Continued

Norwegian Centre of Excellence awarded to CoE-Pal Board Member from Wits, for early humans research

Congratulations to our own Prof. Chris Henshilwood, a Wits archaeologist who runs the Centre of Early Human Behaviour (EHB) at the University of Bergen (UiB), and who has received new research funding after the EHB was awarded Centre of Excellence status. Read the Wits media release below. Link: Wits University Media Release – 22 March 2017 … Continued

CoE Palaeo wins at SciFest!

  The DST NRF Centre of Excellence in Palaeosciences (CoE Palaeo) outreach workshop, entitled “Hands on human evolution”, and the CoE Palaeo standing exhibit at SciFest Africa 2017 proved extremely popular and won two awards! Images: CoE Palaeo’s Ian McKay, who also participated at SciFest Africa (above), and the awards received (below).        

Prestigious Palaeosciences Honours Bursary

The Palaeontological Scientific Trust (PAST) in collaboration with the DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Palaeosciences (CoE-Pal) is offering a Prestigious Palaeosciences Honours Bursary to an exceptional graduate. Candidates should demonstrate that they will be pursuing their Honours Degree with a supervisor who has a proven track record of excellent supervision.

Sterkfontein legacy featured in Popular Archeology

Jesse Holth has written a feature article published in Popular Archeology about the evolutionary legacy and importance of the Sterkfontein Caves. Click the link below to read the article in PDF format: Sterkfontein: A history of evolution in the cradle of humanity

Sterkfontein celebrates 80 years

Scientific American has written up a tribute feature celebrating the 80th anniversary of Robert Broom’s discoveries at the Sterkfontein caves that gave rise to the area being renamed the Cradle of Humankind. Read the article here: The Fossil That Rewrote Human Prehistory

Good teeth at the heart of sexiness, evolution shows

Media release from Wits University 19 September 2016 An age-old secret that Hollywood celebrities try to keep from you has been uncovered… by palaeontologists. Hollywood celebrities spend large amounts of dollars on it. The hunky stud at the local pub thinks he knows it. But the age-old secret has been carefully kept for millions of … Continued

DST-NRF Centre of Excellence in Palaeosciences Hosts First Education and Outreach Workshop

From September 13-15, 2016, the CoE was host to approximately 30 participants, representing primarily informal palaeosciences education initiatives from around South Africa, but including participants from the National Museums in Kenya. Present were educators and researchers from the Albany Museum, the Ditsong Museum of Natural History, Iziko Museum, the National Geographic “Umsuka” Public Palaeoanthropology Project, … Continued

Visiting Olduvai Gorge

Recognise Sambo, a 3rd year BA student majoring in Archaeology, Anthropology, and Psychology at the University of the Witwatersrand, recently visited Tanzania’s most famous site, Olduvai Gorge. Read about her experience there, and how the trip was made possible, in her own words:   I have visited Olduvai Gorge! Olduvai/Oldupai Gorge is the world’s best-known … Continued

Seminar on origins of the brain

On 21 September, JIAS, the Evolutionary Studies Institute at Wits University, the Centre of Excellence for the Paleosciences, and the Royal Society of South Africa will hold a one-day seminar on ‘The Origins of the Brain – From Mammal-like Reptiles to Humans’. A limited number of seats are available. Those interesting in attending are requested … Continued

Learners from Oprah Winfrey girls’ school educated about opportunities for women in science

On the 15th of August 2016, the learners from Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls were fortunate enough to have an information session with Dr Christine Steininger from the Centre of Excellence in Palaeosciences and Ms Recognize Sambo, a 3rd year student from Geology, Archaeology & Environmental Studies, both at the University of the Witwatersrand. … Continued


  A study that for the first time examined the internal anatomy of a fossil human relative’s heel bone, or calcaneus, showed greater similarities with gorillas than chimps. MEDIA RELEASE FROM WITS UNIVERSITY The study, titled: Trabecular architecture in the StW 352 fossil hominin calcaneus and published in the Journal of Human Evolution, was undertaken by … Continued


Cancer on a Paleo-diet? Ask someone who lived 1.7 million years ago.   Johannesburg, South Africa – an international team of researchers led by scientists from the University of the Witwatersrand’s Evolutionary Studies Institute and the South African Centre for Excellence in PalaeoSciences today announced in two papers, published in the South African Journal of … Continued


Technological and cultural innovations amongst early humans not sparked by climate change

Environmental records obtained from archaeological sites in South Africa’s southern Cape suggest climate may not have been directly linked to cultural and technological innovations of Middle Stone Age humans in southern Africa after all. A study published July 6, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by an international team of researchers, led by Dr … Continued

Turtles did not evolve shells for protection.

Eight-year-old South African boy discovers early turtle fossil that solves the mystery of why the turtle got its shell. It is common knowledge that the modern turtle shell is largely used for protection. No other living vertebrate has so drastically altered its body to form such an impenetrable protective structure as the turtle. However a … Continued

Breeding Young as a Survival Strategy during Earth’s Greatest Mass Extinction

Studies of the effects of mass extinctions on ancient ecosystems have focused on changes in taxic diversity, morphological disparity, abundance, behaviour and resource availability as key determinants of group survival. Crucially, the contribution of life history traits to survival during terrestrial mass extinctions has not been investigated, despite the critical role of such traits for … Continued

Sterkfontein Caves produce two new hominin fossils

Specimens from the Homo genus and can be associated with early stone tools dated to 2.18 million years ago. Download the Press Pack Two new hominin fossils have been found in a previously uninvestigated chamber in the Sterkfontein Caves, just North West of Johannesburg in South Africa. The two new specimens, a finger bone and … Continued

Early human ancestor didn’t have the jaws of a nutcracker

Biting too hard would have dislocated jaw of Australopithecus sediba Research published in 2012 garnered international attention by suggesting that a possible early human ancestor had lived on a diverse woodland diet including hard foods mixed in with tree bark, fruit, leaves and other plant products. But new research by an international team of researchers … Continued

South African scientists piece together ‘new dinosaur species’

  After 20 years of collecting fossils, team believes sauropod-like specimen, nicknamed Highland Giant, was largest animal to roam Karoo region Source: South African scientists piece together ‘new dinosaur species’ | Science | The Guardian

49,000 year-old ochre based paint mixed with milk found in Sibudu Cave

An international research team led by the University of Colorado Boulder and the University of Witwatersrand has discovered a milk-and ochre-based paint dating to 49,000 years ago that inhabitants may have used to adorn themselves with or to decorate stone or wooden slabs. While the use of ochre by early humans dates to at least … Continued

Homo naledi may have climbed trees, walked upright.

The second set of papers related to the remarkable discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human relative, show that Homo naledi had unique Tarzan-features – climbing trees as well as walking upright. The two papers, titled: The foot of Homo naledi and The hand of Homo naledi, describe the structure and function of the H. naledi hand and foot. Taken together, the … Continued

New species of human relative discovered in South African cave

Fossils representing at least 15 individuals may alter views of human behaviour The discovery of a new species of human relative was announced today, 10 September 2015, by the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits University), the National Geographic Society and the Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the National Research Foundation of South Africa … Continued

Earliest baboon found at Malapa

A team from Wits University’s Evolutionary Studies Institute has discovered a fossil monkey specimen representing the earliest baboon ever found. Dating back more than 2 million years ago (between 2.026-2.36 million years ago), the partial skull was found at Malapa, in the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, the same site where the partial skeletons … Continued

Meet Pulanesaura – The Rain Lizard

Wits PhD student Blair McPhee has described a new species of dinosaur in a paper to be published in Scientific Reports on 19 August 2015. The new dinosaur, named Pulanesaura eocollum, means the “Rain lizard”. According to the authors of the paper –  McPhee, Dr Matthew Bonnan (Stockton University), Dr Jonah Choiniere (Evolutionary Studies Institute … Continued

Research Summary: Robert Muir

I am a Geology MSc. Student at the University of Cape Town with research interests in sedimentology, palaeontology and palaeoecology. My research is focussed on the Lower Cretaceous Kirkwood Formation, Uitenhage Group, found in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape of South Africa. In 2014 I completed my honours degree with a thesis that describes … Continued

Discovering the genesis of our world: fragment by fragment

The south east coast of New South Wales contains a rich source of fish and plant fossils from the time when life moved from water to land and when forests first began to grow. A team of international scientists are studying the stories these fossils tell of a time of massive climate change and extinctions, … Continued

An overview of Palaeoenvironments and Palaeoclimates

Ecosystems of the recent past, all the way back to the formation of the Earth itself, can be reconstructed by means of palaeoenvironmental proxies. Fossil flora, fauna, and trace fossils can tell us about climate and biodiversity, which can be incorporated with sedimentology, geochemistry and palaeomagnetism. Together, these data allow palaeoecologists to build a detailed … Continued

Tiny Prehistoric Ear Bone Shows Differences in Species

It has long been believed that the hearing bone called stapes, one of the smallest bones in ancestor of mammals, shows no differences between species. Now, Dr Leandro Gaetano and Professor Fernando Abdala from the University of the Witwatersrand’s Evolutionary Studies Institute (ESI) have completed the first detailed and comprehensive analysis on the ear bone … Continued

With teeth like that, this pre-dinosaur vegetarian was no push over…

Head-butting and canine display during male-male combat first appeared some 270 million years ago Discovered four years ago, and following an updated and more in-depth study of the herbivorous mammalian ancestor, Tiarajudens eccentricus, researchers from Brazil and South Africa can now present a meticulous description of the skull, skeleton and dental replacement of this Brazilian … Continued

Karoo reveals mass extinction

The rocks of the Karoo have shed light on the timing, some 260 million years ago, when almost all of Earth’s species – land and sea – died in a mass extinction event. It also led to the disappearance of a diverse group of early mammal-like reptiles called dinocephalians, which were the largest land-living animals … Continued

The fossils of Nieu-Bethesda – Visit South Africa’s own Permian Park…

Situated in the heart of the Karoo, in the picturesque town of Nieu-Bethedsa, and home of the famous Owl House, the Kitching Fossil Exploration Centre tells the story of life in South Africa 253 million years ago during the Permian Period. This was a time 50 million years before the first dinosaurs when the continents … Continued

Dinosaur eggs get ready to hatch their secrets – 200 million years later

In the late winter of 1976, the world famous fossil collector James Kitching was doing a survey near South Africa’s border with Lesotho. To his surprise he found a tiny clutch of six fossilised eggs along the side of the road at a place known as Rooidraai. It took five years for skilled palaentologists to … Continued

Species without boundaries: a new way to map our origins

The challenge we face after a century of extraordinary discoveries is pinning down the lineage and mapping the evolutionary route through which we as human beings got here. Read the full article at The Conversation: Species without boundaries: a new way to map our origins

Why South Africa’s Karoo is a palaeontological wonderland

The Karoo provides not only a historical record of biological change over a period of Earth’s history but also a means to test theories of evolutionary processes over long periods of time. South Africa’s Karoo region has been in the headlines in recent years because of the prospect of a controversial fracking programme to exploit … Continued

‘Little Foot’ fossils found to be older than ‘Lucy’

A study by researchers from South Africa, the US, Canada and France has found that the famous Australopithecus fossil skeleton known as ‘Little Foot’ is around 1.47 million years older than was initially estimated and might therefore potentially represent a direct human ancestor. The finding, made possible by using an advanced dating method called isochron … Continued

Pioneer Palaeontologists of South Africa

  Atherstone, William Guybon (Dr) b. Nottingham, England, 1814–d. Grahamstown, 1898 Field/s of interest and study Medicine (pioneer anaesthetist), Geology, Palaeontology, Fauna, Flora Career highlights Qualified as medical doctor in Europe and then assisted in father’s practice in Grahamstown; played important roles in public life (parliamentarian and initiator of Grahamstown Albany Museum, library and botanical … Continued

Taung – Back to the drawing board?

The Taung Child, South Africa’s premier hominin discovered 90 years ago by Wits University Professor Raymond Dart, never seizes to transform and evolve the search for our collective origins. By subjecting the skull of the first australopith discovered to the latest technologies in the Wits University Microfocus X-ray Computed Tomography (CT) facility, researchers are now … Continued

Milestone for young dinosaur hunter

Barely two years after joining Wits University, Massachusetts native and dinosaur expert, Dr Jonah Choiniere, has become only the second palaeontologist to be awarded a P-rating by the National Research Foundation (NRF). He will be officially receiving his P-rating tonight (11 September 2014) at the 2014 NRF Awards Ceremony to be held in Johannesburg. The … Continued