National History Museum


  • Africa Day

    23 May 2016
     African Union Flag
    African Union Flag

    The National Museum celebrates Africa Day (25 May) with a temporary exhibition on the symbols of the African Union, and books and artefacts from Africa.  The display includes information on the African Union, the AU flag and anthem, to which visitors can listen.  This exhibition can be viewed until 6 June.

  • How to Survive Extinction: Live Fast, Die Young

    7 April 2016
    Lystrosaurus, one of the few survivors of the Permo-Triassic mass extinction
    Lystrosaurus, one of the few survivors of the Permo-Triassic mass extinction

    National Museum Examines Life History of Ancient Mammal Relatives

    Two hundred and fifty-two million years ago, a series of Siberian volcanoes erupted and sent the Earth into the greatest mass extinction of all time. Billions of tons of carbon were propelled into the atmosphere, radically altering the Earth’s climate. Yet, some animals thrived in the aftermath and scientists now know why. In a new study published in Scientific Reports, palaeontologists from the National Museum, Bloemfontein and their collaborators demonstrate that ancient mammal relatives, known as therapsids, adapted to drastic climate change by having shorter life expectancies. When combined with results from survivorship models, this observation leads the team to suggest that these animals bred at younger ages than their predecessors.

    “Before the Permo-Triassic extinction, the therapsid Lystrosaurus had a life span of about 15 years based on the record of growth preserved in their bones,” said National Museum palaeontologist Jennifer Botha-Brink, the lead author on the paper. “Yet, nearly all of the Lystrosaurus specimens we find from after the extinction are only 2­–3 years old. This implies that they must have been breeding when they were juveniles themselves.”

    This adjustment in life history also meant a physical change for Lystrosaurus. Before the mass extinction, this creature would have been a couple of metres long and weighed hundreds of kilograms—about the size of a pygmy hippo. Post-extinction, its size dropped to that of a large dog, in large part due to its altered lifespan. Yet, these adaptations seemed to pay off for Lystrosaurus. Ecological simulations show that by breeding younger, Lystrosaurus could have increased its chance of survival by 40% in the unpredictable environment that existed in the aftermath of the extinction.

    This change in breeding behavior is not isolated to ancient animals either. In the past century, the Atlantic cod has undergone a similar effect due to human interference. Industrial fishing has removed most large individuals from the population, shifting the average size of cod significantly downward. Likewise, the remaining individuals are forced to breed as early in their lives as possible. Similar shifts have also been demonstrated in African monitor lizards.

    “With the world currently facing its sixth mass extinction, palaeontological research can help us understand how and why some animals, such as those like Lystrosaurus, thrived in the face of disaster,” said Botha-Brink. Studying the reasons for differential survival in response to dramatic environmental perturbation amongst extinct species will allow us to better predict how today’s climate change will affect modern species.”

  • Temporary Exhibition

    18 December 2015

    Light-based Technologies

    A temporary exhibition demonstrating the nature of light and the use of different forms of light in  the natural sciences is now on display at the National Museum. 

    Electric light forms an integral part of the functioning of microscopes.  A simple but very effective method for extracting soil organisms from soil samples is based on heat generated by electric light.  Natural sunlight is essential for the survival of practically all life on Earth, but how do lizards make use of it?  Did you know that scorpions fluoresce in ultraviolet light?  And what is bioluminescence?

    Find the answers to these questions in the temporary exhibition at the National Museum, on display until 31 March 2016.

  • Marianna Botes, National Museum Cultural Historian, receives prize for best doctoral thesis (History) in Afrikaans

    15 October 2015

    The Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns introduced a prize to encourage post-graduate students in History to produce theses in Afrikaans and to reward high quality work.  The prize is known as the Protea Boekhuisprys and is sponsored by this publisher.  Dr Marianna Botes, Cultural Historian at the Museum, was the first recipient of this prestigious prize for her PhD thesis: Bloemfontein gedurende die bewind van president F.W. Reitz, 1889-1895: ʼn kultuurhistoriese studie.  

    In the photo from left: Prof. Wessel Pienaar, Chairperson of the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns, Dr Marianna Botes and Dr Nicol Stassen, owner and managing director of Protea Boekhuis publishers.

  • Night at the Museum

    25 August 2015

    The 2006 film Night at the Museum sparked the idea of having our own Night at the National Museum and we organised the first event at short notice on 23 January 2007.  Since our first attempt, the event has become bigger and better each time, and is now presented every second year.  From the start our Night at the Museum event proved to be extremely popular, with sold-out shows every time. 

    The displays will come alive again on Friday 18 September 2015.  There will be three sessions, each lasting 1½ hours, starting at 18:00, 20:00 and 22:00.  Tickets cost R40 for adults and R20 for children between 3 and 18 years old.  Boerewors rolls (R20) will be sold by Fractal, an ad-hoc committee of the Friends of Oliewenhuis Art Museum, to those waiting outside the National Museum.  Reserve your tickets by phoning the National Museum on 051 447 9609 or send an e-mail to shop [at] nasmus [dot] co [dot] za.

  • National Museum project for Mandela Day

    7 August 2015
    Tshepang Kitchen showing her “sunflower hands”
    Tshepang Kitchen showing her “sunflower hands”

    National Museum project for Mandela Day

    Every year, as its Mandela Day Project, the National Museum selects a local charity organisation to support.  This year the Museum donated a variety of articles to Sunflower Children’s Hospice, which cares for children with incurable and life-threatening diseases.  Apart from the more-or-less 15 patients staying at the hospice, the staff of Sunflower Children’s Hospice also cares for more than 300 children in the community. 

    On 22 July the director and some of the staff of the Museum handed over a donation of nappies, toiletries, toys, clothes, and new mattresses for all the cots.  As part of the festivities, a song and dance group from the Museum entertained the children. Cupcakes, balloons and “sunflower hands” were also distributed .



  • National Science Week

    28 July 2015

    National Science Week, an initiative of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), is a countrywide celebration of science.  The National Research Foundation (NRF), an agency of DST, and its business unit the South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA), are responsible for the advancement and creation of awareness of the importance of science, engineering and technology.  This year is the International Year of Light, and therefore the theme for this year’s National Science Week is “Light-based Technologies”. 


    During the focus week from 1 to 8 August 2015 the public, educators and learners will be exposed to science-based careers through presentations by Museum scientists, visits to schools by the Mobile Museum accompanied by a scientist and education officer, and the distribution of posters, booklets and pamphlets provided by SAASTA on careers in science.


    For further information, please contact Ancilia van Staden (051-447 9609 or ancilia [at] nasmus [dot] co [dot] za).


  • Multidisciplinary international expedition to KwaZulu-Natal Province

    10 February 2015

    Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs, curator of Entomology and Dr Vaughn Swart, University of the Free State, organized a 20-day multidisciplinary international expedition to KwaZulu-Natal Province (19 November–8 December 2014). The expedition comprised 18 participants namely Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs and Ms Eunice Letsobe (National Museum), Mr. Burgert Muller and Mrs. Chrizelda Stoffels (KwaZulu-Natal Museum, Pietermaritzburg), Prof. Steve Marshall (University of Guelph, Canada), Dr Daniel Whitmore, Dr Ben Price, Ms Elizabeth Allan and Dr Steen Dupont (Natural History Museum, London, United Kingdom), Dr Peter Kerr, Dr Shaun Winterton and Ms Laura Breitkreuz (California State Collection of Arthropods, United States), Dr Vaughn Swart and Ms Tanya Smit (University of the Free State) Dr Johann van As and Ms Michelle van As (University of the Free State, Qwaqwa Campus) and Dr Courtney Cook and Mr Edward Netherlands (North-West University, Potchefstroom).

    Participants worked on various specializations or sampling protocols, collecting insects (mainly Diptera, Hymenoptera, Lepidoptera and Odonata) for general collection development or for specific projects. Blood samples of amphibians and reptiles were also taken to study insect-borne pathogens. Prof. Steve Marshall captured images of living flies for use in the forthcoming Manual of Afrotropical Diptera.

    Fieldwork was conducted at Royal Natal National Park and Ndumo Game Reserve.

    Back row (from left):Courtney Cook, Ashley Kirk-Spriggs, Burgert Muller, Laura Breitkreuz, Stephen Marshall, Edward Netherlands, Vaughn Swart, Peter Kerr, Daniel Whitmore, Benjamin Price, Steen Dupont, Shaun Winterton. Front row (from left): Eunice Letsobe; Johann van As; Michelle van As; Tanya Smit; Chrizelda Stoffels; Elizabeth Allan.