Did you know?
Thrinaxodons, 252 million year-old ancestors of mammals, started humans on their journey of evolution.
Professor Bruce Rubidge, Director of the Bernard Price Institute of Palaeontology at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg puts it this way: 'We study the biodiversity of the past to understand the diversity of the present'.
When you visit the Bernard Price Institute of Palaeontology, you’ll be privileged to see a collection of reptile, dinosaur and mammal fossils – the largest such collection in the world – that you can see nowhere else.
How did this amazing institute come about? At a 1945 lecture at the university, famous palaeontologist Dr Robert Broom gave a tear-jerking public lecture where he bemoaned the fact that South Africa's priceless fossils were being ignored and lost.
Engineer and philanthropist Bernard Price was in the audience. He stood up and said, 'I’ll give you the money, if you find the man'.
That man was found: James Kitchings, an ex-World War ll serviceman who had been collecting fossils all his life. The university gave him a train ticket to Graaff-Rienet in the Karoo where he set up base at the foot of a rusty windmill.
Be sure to look at the Kitchings map at the Institute where you can see a record of his remarkable travels throughout the Karoo. All his fossil finds are housed at the Institute and – wait for it – there are nearly750 000 of them.
Although in the past it has taken up to 20 years of constant preparation to display some of these remarkable fossil specimens, today science has moved on.
The institute is home to a micro CT scanner, which, with high resolution x-rays, can literally lay the bones bare to be studied in microscopic detail. As Institute curator, Dr Bernhard Klipfel, says, 'the data is more valuable than the actual physical fossil because it is so accurate'.
Today, nearly seven decades on, the Bernard Price Institute of Palaeontology is a mecca for scientists and graduate students from all over the world. If you want evidence of the origins of life, then this is the place to visit.