As you move from display room to display room, you'll find things about the Eastern Cape you never knew: discoveries of the prehistoric coelacanth fish, collections of Xhosa cultural artifacts, stone bones from the ancient Karoo and a living beehive that has been in the East London Museum since 1959.

Did you know?

The world’s oldest human footprints so far discovered were left at Nahoon Point about 120 000 years ago.

The East London Museum houses one of South Africa’s most delightful collections of historical artifacts, amazing discoveries and utter eccentricities.

There are few places in Africa where, in the space of a short walk from room to room, you can find a 40 000-year-old skull, human footprints made 120 000 years ago and Venetian trade beads found all over this continent.

Reptile skulls from the ancient Karoo vie with the life histories of early African intellectuals like Mpilo Walter, Tiyo Soga and John Jabavu, while old photographs of East London and bucolic Xhosa cultural collections stand nearby.

For curious schoolchildren visiting the East London Museum, there is a living beehive cut-through display that has been there since 1959 – and still holds great fascination for the throngs that pass this busy bug clan.

The football diorama was opened in May 2010, and focuses on soccer in the Eastern Cape.

The display that has stood the test of time best, however, is that of 'Old Four Legs': the coelacanth.

It was Marjorie Courtenay-Latimer who first discovered a dead coelacanth, a fossil fish with four stubby little legs still attached. It was believed to have gone extinct more than 70-million years ago.

Courtenay-Latimer was called down to the East London docks one day in 1938 to check out a load of sharks that had just come in on the boat Nerine. She noticed a strange-looking blue fin sticking out from the pile of otherwise pure shark.

'I picked away the layers of slime to reveal the most beautiful fish I had ever seen,' she told Samantha Weinberg in A Fish Caught In Time. 'It had four limb-like fins and a strange puppy-dog tail…'

Many species of the coelacanth, including living specimens, have since been discovered, helping scientists to piece together the complex history of life on Earth.

Travel tips & Planning info

Who to contact

East London Museum
Tel: +27 (0) 43 743 0686

Gately House
Tel: +27 (0) 43 722 2141

Imonti Tours
Velile Ndlumbini
Tel: +27 (83) 487 8975
Fax: +27 (86) 694 0319

How to get here

The East London Museum is situated at 319 Oxford Street (entrance from Dawson Road) Southernwood East London. There is ample public parking accessible from Dawson Road.


From Airport: Turn left onto Settlers Way (R72) Drive until the road becomes Fleet Street Turn left into Oxford Street (at traffic circle) Drive until Dawson Road intersection Turn right into Dawson Road Turn right again into the first entrance on the right (Guild Theatre) Park in most convenient parking.

From N2 (From north): Turn off at the Western Avenue turn-off Turn left into Meadow Road Turn right into Western Avenue Drive until road becomes Union Avenue Turn left into Dawson Road Turn right again into the first entrance on the right (Guild Theatre) Park in most convenient parking.

Around the area

Gately House, the preserved home of East London's first mayor and a typical example of Victorian architecture, is worth a visit.

Tours to do

Try Imonti Tours - they are local and they are good.

What will it cost

Adults: R12; pensioners: R8; children over 6: R5; children under 6: free.

Length of stay

Plan to spend about 3 hours at the museum.

Where to stay

Visit the official East London website - the city has an excellent range of accommodation.

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