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TThe Ditsong National Museum of Natural History – formerly known as the Transvaal Museum – was founded as the Staatsmuseum (state museum) of the ZAR in 1892 and is today part of Ditsong Museums of South Africa.
The Pretoria museum is the premier natural history repository in South Africa. Among its important exhibits are various fossils, the evolution of life on earth and birds of southern Africa.
It is also the only natural history museum in Gauteng – and one of the largest in the country – and is renowned for its fossil record.
Ditsong is an amalgamation of 8 national museums with collections covering the fields of fauna and flora, palaeontology, military history, cultural history, geology, anthropology and archaeology.
From the outset, this museum's collection policy has focused on cultural and natural history.
Its first order of business was to send out a request to state officials for ‘items made by indigenous inhabitants so as to build up a collection of their artefacts; items of interest in the field of natural history, including animals, plants, fossils, minerals and ores; and items of European origin and history, in particular those of the Boers and Voortrekkers'.
It achieved international prominence when the eccentric Dr Robert Broom was appointed palaeontologist. A respectable 68 years old at the time, he set about vindicating Professor Raymond Dart's theories on the origins of humankind.
On 18 April 1947 he found an almost perfect adult ape-man skull at the Sterkfontein Caves near Johannesburg. Nicknamed Mrs Ples, this fossil, which provided irrefutable evidence of the existence of ape-men, is now housed in this museum in Pretoria.
In the first of the museum’s main sections is Genesis I: Hall of Life, which depicts a timeline history of life on earth. It includes primitive animals and bony fish and ends with displays of amphibians and reptiles. Genesis II: Mammal Hall focuses on the evolution of mammals and humans.
In the Austin Roberts Bird Hall are specimens of all southern Africa's 870 bird species, arranged in accordance with Roberts' famous tome, Birds of Southern Africa. The GeoScience Hall boasts a comprehensive collection of precious and semi-precious stones.
TTravel tips & planning info
Who to contact
Ditsong National Museum of Natural History
Tel: +27 (0)12 492 5744
Fax: +27 (0)12 323-6592
How to get here
The museum is at 432 Paul Kruger Street in the Pretoria city centre and is easily accessible by car, bus or taxi.
Best time to visit
The museum is open 7 days a week from 8am to 4pm (except for Christmas and Good Friday).
Around the area
Tours to do
The museum has a variety of guided tours on offer.
What will it cost?
Entrance starts at R15 for students and pensioners but check their website for the latest rates. There are also special rates for group tours.
Length of stay
A few hours.
Where to stay
Pretoria has a variety of accommodation options to suit all pockets and tastes. Alternatively, it is about a 45 to 60-minute drive from Johannesburg.
There are regular new exhibits, so visit their website for updates.