National History Museum

Unearthing the past

PAST's Walking Tall interactive educational theatre project

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. Yet, the majority of South Africans are unaware of our precious fossil heritage and our place in the global community as one of the leaders in palaeontology. The reasons for this are twofold; a lack of awareness, and a lack of understanding. Although Evolution became part of the school curriculum in 2008, many of our young learners still do not fully understand the concept of Evolution and its importance to the human race.

Much still needs to be done to promote a sense of awareness and pride in our African heritage and to bring about an appreciation for past life on Earth and how we, as humans, came to be here. Thus, the Karoo Palaeontology Department of the National Museum, Bloemfontein resolved to take on this challenge by implementing a programme entitled “Unearthing the Past”. Partial Lystrosaurus fossil skulls were collected and prepared for the specific purpose of distributing them for educational purposes. Ten selected schools each received a package of printed information, CDs, posters, casts of fossils and a real Lystrosaurus skull, which gave them the opportunity to touch the remains of an animal that lived 250 million years ago.

The programme ran from 27 February to 2 March 2012 in conjunction with the Palaeontological Scientific Trust’s Walking Tall Programme. The Palaeontological Scientific Trust (PAST) is based in Johannesburg and is a non-profit organization involved in supporting palaeontological and archaeological research and education in Africa. The Walking Tall Programme is an interactive educational theatre project, which aims to bring the history of life on Earth to life via the performing arts. This was PAST’s first visit to the Free State and the positive response from the learners was overwhelming. Many schools have asked PAST’s Walking Tall Programme to return to Bloemfontein and the National Museum has resolved to work with PAST in order to bring the Walking Tall Programme back to Bloemfontein.