National History Museum


  • Mentorship programme in fossil preparation

    23 August 2011

    South Africa is world-renowned for its extensive fossil record.  The rocks of the Karoo Basin contain the most complete record of the origins and evolution of mammals and the earliest dinosaurs, making South Africa one of the top palaeontological destinations in the world.  New fossil species are continually being discovered, species which contain new information about the early ancestors of mammals and dinosaurs.  As part of our natural heritage, these specimens must be carefully prepared and conserved.  Important information contained in fossils can be developed and enhanced by proper and careful preparation techniques and this information can be preserved for future generations through publication of research results, and the proper conservation and storage of these specimens.

    Fossil preparators, who are responsible for preparing fossils for research and exhibition purposes by removing the surrounding rock or matrix and repairing damaged parts, play a critical role in Palaeontology.  Correct preparation techniques have the ability to unlock crucial information from a specimen, whereas poor preparation can result in the loss of that information.

    Fossil preparation requires a combination of skills which must be developed over time; it demands knowledge of the specimen, the ability to focus for long periods of time, fine motor skills, patience and motivation.

    John Nyaphuli
    John Nyaphuli

    The National Museum is pleased to announce a mentorship programme in fossil preparation, co-ordinated by Mr John Nyaphuli and sponsored by the Technical Training and Capacity Support Programme of the Palaeontological Scientific Trust’s (PAST) Scatterlings of Africa Project.  Mr John Nyaphuli has worked as a fossil preparator in the Karoo Palaeontology Department of the National Museum since 1973.  He has 37 years experience in field excavation, mechanical and acid fossil preparation and is one of the finest fossil preparators in the world.  He has discovered numerous fossils and in recognition of his outstanding contributions to Palaeontology, both in the field and laboratory, was awarded Honorary Life Membership of the National Museum in 1999 and Honorary Life Membership of the Palaeontological Society of Southern Africa in 2004.

    Mr Nyaphuli has trained numerous preparators at various institutions over the years and the Museum has been eager to begin a new mentorship programme with two trainees, Ms Sabie Chaka and Mr William Molehe, who joined the Museum recently this year. Our new preparators will be preparing fossils as part of an educational programme to promote Palaeontology in Bloemfontein.  The fossils will provide learners with the unique opportunity to touch the remains of animals that lived millions of years ago.  The educational aspect of the programme will be launched in 2012 in association with PAST’s Walking Tall Educational Theatre Project, a programme that uses theatre to inform learners about the story of life on Earth.

    John teaching William Molehe (left) and Sabie Chaka (right) correct preparation techniques
    John teaching William Molehe (left) and Sabie Chaka correct preparation techniques

    scatterlings of africa logo

  • National Science Week

    13 July 2011
    National Science Week
    National Science Week

    National Science Week, an initiative of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), is a countrywide celebration of science involving various stakeholders and role players conducting science-based activities.  National Science Week will take place simultaneously at multiple sites in all nine provinces.

    The South African Agency for Science and Technology Advancement (SAASTA), a business unit of the National Research Foundation (NRF), acts as project manager for National Science Week 2011.

    The focus week will run from Monday 1 to Saturday 6 August 2011.  National Science Week is intended to expose the public, educators and learners to science, engineering and technology awareness and science-based careers.

    The National Museum, Bloemfontein will celebrate National Science Week as follows:

    1. Selected schools have been invited to attend presentations at the Museum from Monday 1 to Friday 5 August 2011.
    2. Families are invited to the Family Science Open Day on 6 August 2011.  Entry to this event is free, but booking is essential.  


    Please book by calling Mr Tebogo Mohlakane-Mafereka at 051-447 9609 or 081 326 2210 or tebogo [dot] mohlakane [at] nasmus [dot] co [dot] za

    The Family Science Open Day will start with a Science Café (discussion session) at 09h00 with the topic “The role of Science in economic development”.  The 11h30 session will feature a DVD on global warming awareness, entitled: “An Inconvenient Truth – a global warning” by Al Gore.  Snacks and cool drinks will be on sale at the Museum Shop.


  • Museum scientist publishes second book

    27 June 2011
    'n Seun soos Bram - Bram Fischer, book cover
    'n Seun soos Bram - Bram Fischer, book cover

    ‘n Seun soos Bram is a treatment of the life of advocate and anti-apartheid activist Bram Fischer.  This is not a book about Fischer’s via dolorosa or an analytical work about his communism.  It is the story of a promising Afrikaner boy in the context of his prominent Free State family.  It is also the story of his mother Ella who never abandoned her own nationalist views or her devotion to her son.  This story of intrigue and espionage, but also of Bram’s happy childhood and close ties with his mother, is partly based on new documents such as family letters and Ella’s diaries.

    The author, Hannes Haasbroek, is Head of the History Department at the National Museum.  His book on the life of the well known soprano, Cecilia Wessels, Stem en Legende, was published in 2005.

  • Night at the Museum

    14 June 2011
    Night at the Museum: NASMUS
    Night at the Museum: NASMUS

    Museum staff hosted another highly successful Night at the Museum on 20 May 2011. Visitors were enthralled by talking portraits, aliens and meeting Fiona (of Shrek fame) in person. More than 1 100 people visited the Museum for this special event.

  • Night at the Museum

    9 May 2011
    Night at the Museum: NASMUS
    Night at the Museum: NASMUS

    Join us on 20 May 2011 for a Night at the Museum.

    Contact us on 051 447 9609 to reserve your place.

    Adults: R20
    Children: R10




  • World’s rarest fly rediscovered

    7 December 2010
    Mormotomyia hirsuta Female
    Mormotomyia hirsuta Female

    On a recent trip to Kenya, Ashley Kirk-Spriggs, Entomologist at the National Museum, and Bob Copeland (International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), Nairobi, were fortunate to re-discover the bizarre wingless fly, Terrible Hairy Fly (Mormotomyia hirsuta), which has only been collected twice before, in 1933 and 1948, although several expeditions have subsequently been unsuccessful in re-discovering the species.

    The fly belongs to a family of its own, the Mormotomyiidae, which is endemic to the Afrotropical Region.  The systematic position of this family within the higher flies has long been an anomaly and we now have suitably preserved specimens (collected during our trip) for molecular analysis. The situation regarding its systematic position can now at last be resolved.

    Mormotomyia hirsuta Male
    Mormotomyia hirsuta Male

    The species is known from only a single locality in the world and is the world's 'rarest fly'.  The flies are associated with bats and the larvae develop in the bat guano following heavy rains when this is washed from a cleft in the rock inhabited by the bats.

    The flies have the forewings reduced to tiny straps, and have enormously long legs, clothed in immensely long hairs which they use as a parachute to drift down from the roof of the rock crevice in which they live.

    This discovery represents a major leap forward in our understanding of the systematics of the higher flies and is causing a great deal of excitement within the dipterological community worldwide.

    Top photo:Mormotomyia hirsuta Female

  • New Boa constrictors for the live display

    28 October 2010
    New Boa constrictors for the live display
    New Boa constrictors for the live display

    The nearly 4-m-long female African Rock Python (Python natalensis) that was on display for many years, died in July 2010 after refusing to eat for some time. Owing to her popularity with the public it was decided to replace her with some other large constrictor. Boa Constrictors would be ideal for the display as neither their size nor feeding would be a problem. A male and a female Red-tailed Boa were duly purchased.

    The Boa Constrictor (Boa constrictor) is one of the few animals whose common name is the same as its scientific name. It usually grows to about 2.5 m in length, although females may grow to 4 m, and weigh up to 27 kg.

    The distribution of the species Boa constrictor extends from northern Mexico, southwards to Argentina north of 35° S. It also occurs on many islands along the coast of Mexico and South America. The Red-tailed Boa is the most commonly kept captive species.

    It is sincerely hoped that the public will enjoy many pleasurable years of viewing our two new acquisitions.

    For more information visit; live displays.

  • Lectures on Biodiversity

    5 October 2010
    Lectures on Biodiversity - NASMUS
    Lectures on Biodiversity - NASMUS

    The year 2010 is the International Year of Biodiversity. The series of public lectures presented by the National Museum, in partnership with the University of the Free State, comes to an end during October with the last two lectures presented by Prof. Seaman and Dr Zietsman.

    Prof. Maitland Seaman, Centre for Environmental Management, University of the Free State, will talk on the influence of climatic variability on wetlands of the dry west. The drier it is, the greater is the variability in climate. And if we have climate change, there’s the added probability of hotter conditions and greater evaporation rates, even if the rainfall stays the same. The survival strategies that organisms have are dependent on the ability, maybe genius, in handling temporal and spatial variability, connectivity and isolation (refuge). The presentation will attempt to illustrate the environmental context of the arid zone, and the general problems faced by natural communities, especially those of temporary pans.

    The last presentation in this series will be by Dr Ziets Zietsman, Botanist at the National Museum and well known nature photographer. He will present an audiovisual slide show titled “Kalahari biodiversity in a nutshell”. Dr Zietsman’s outstanding photos are not to be missed.

    The presentations will take place at 19:00 on Thursday 14 October in the Reservoir at Oliewenhuis Art Museum, 16 Harry Smith Street. Light refreshments will be served after the lectures and car guards will be present. Entrance is free, but as space is limited, please book in advance at direk [at] nasmus [dot] co [dot] za or phone Shirley at 051 447 9609.

    Foto: Ziets Zietsman