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Palaeosciences unit opens at Wits
29 September 2010

The Palaeosciences Centre will keep Wits University at the forefront of the discipline, drawing researchers from near and far.

SCHOLARS, researchers and experts from around the world are now able to explore the planet’s geologic past at the Palaeosciences Centre at Wits University.


The Centre stores priceless hominid, animal and fossil
The Centre stores priceless hominid, animal and plant fossils


The centre was opened by Minister of Science and Technology Naledi Pandor and Loyiso Nongxa, the Wits vice-chancellor and principal. It is located opposite the Origins Centre in Braamfontein, and serves as the home of the Institute for Human Evolution, the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research and the James Kitching Museum.

“The new Palaeosciences Centre will serve as a hub for leading research in this area and the new facilities will enable Wits to accommodate visiting scholars, researchers and experts from around the world, to share in this niche area of research, for which South Africa is internationally renowned,” said Bruce Rubidge, the director of the Bernard Price Institute.

Renovated at a cost of about R40-million, the building is now able to store safely priceless hominid, animal and plant fossils. A large portion of the funding was secured from the Department of Science and Technology.

Other donors included Anglo American Corporation of South Africa, Catherine Druce estate, Ford Foundation, Andrew W Mellon Foundation, Oppenheimer family, Palaeontological Scientific Trust, Savage and Dodd Architects, and Tabatznik Family. The centre was opened on Friday, 17 September.

“We must all acknowledge our remarkable South African and African fossil heritage, which includes us being home to the oldest multicellular organisms, one of the largest palaeo-botany collections in the world, distant ancestors of dinosaurs, an 80-million-year-old animal record and priceless collections of hominid fossils,” said Pandor at the opening.

In 1945, the Bernard Price Institute was established with the now renowned James Kitching as the first member of staff. He served Wits for more than 50 years.

“Wits is home to one of the largest fossil collections in the southern hemisphere. New species are constantly being discovered due to our groundbreaking research efforts, making Wits a target for visits by international researchers in this field,” said Nongxa.

The centre is divided into sections that house various hominid, animal and plant fossils. It gives visitors an evolutionary timeline, giving them a better understanding of how human beings, animals and plants have evolved.

Wits has played a crucial role in developing the palaeosciences in South Africa. Since 1924, the university has been involved in palaeo-research, initially with Professor Raymond Dart and the description of the Taung skull as the first specimen of Australopithecus africanus.

In the 1960s, the Palaeoanthropological Research Unit was established by the world-renowned Professor Phillip Tobias, who, more than 60 years later, continues to serve Wits. Later, the Sterkfontein Research Unit and the Palaeoanthropoloical Unit for Research and Exploration were established, which recently evolved into the Institute for Human Evolution. The current director is Professor Francis Thackeray.

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Last Updated on 04 October 2010