National History Museum

Mentorship programme in fossil preparation

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

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