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  • Why did the turtle shell evolve?

    14 July 2016
    Reconstruction of burrowing Eunotosaurus africanus, in the Karoo Basin
    Reconstruction of burrowing Eunotosaurus africanus, in the Karoo Basin

    It is common knowledge that the modern turtle shell is largely used for protection. No other living vertebrate has so drastically altered its body to form such an impenetrable protective structure as the turtle. However, a new study published in Current Biology on the earliest partially shelled fossil turtles suggests the broad ribbed proto shell was initially an adaptation, not for protection, but rather for burrowing underground.

    The early evolution of the turtle shell has long puzzled scientists. “We knew from both the fossil record and observing how the turtle shell develops in modern turtles that one of the first major changes towards a shell was the broadening of the ribs,” says lead author Dr. Lyson of the Denver Museum of Nature and Science.

    “From the bone microstructure, we found additional evidence of increased muscle power in the forelimbs, a strong indication that this animal was a regular digger” says co-author Dr Jennifer Botha-Brink from the National Museum, Bloemfontein who was involved in the bone microstructure analysis.

    A big breakthrough came with the discovery of several specimens of the oldest (260 million years old) partially shelled proto turtle, Eunotosaurus africanus, from the Karoo Basin of South Africa. Several of these specimens were discovered by two of the studies’ co-authors, Drs. Roger Smith and Bruce Rubidge from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, but the most important specimen in the study was found by a then eight year old South African boy, Kobus Snyman, on his father’s farm in the Western Cape of South Africa.

    “As is the case with many evolutionary innovations, the turtle shell developed for entirely different reasons from its function today. In this instance, the broadened ribs, originally adapted for keeping the body stable during digging and providing a foundation for the insertion of powerful shoulder and arm muscles, only became involved in protection millions of years later”, says Dr. Jennifer Botha-Brink.

    The study includes authors from the United States, South Africa, and Switzerland.

     

    Contact:

    Dr Jennifer Botha-Brink

    National Museum, Bloemfontein

    Email: jbotha [at] nasmus [dot] co [dot] za

    Phone: +27 51 447 9609

     

    Author Institutions’ Media Contacts:

    University of Witswatersrand

    Erna van Wyk: erna [dot] vanwyk [at] wits [dot] ac [dot] za

    Shirona Patel: Shirona [dot] Patel [at] wits [dot] ac [dot] za

     

  • Inscribing Identity

    30 June 2016

    Youth culture and body art - Ancient practices popularised by the youth

    Since the development of distinct cultures among various tribes, humans have had the desire to express their sentiments and social standing in a visual way.  The human body (especially the skin) presents a canvas that can be decorated and altered to express individual and group identity in a permanent or temporary manner.

    Evidence of body art dates from the late Neolithic Period in Europe (8000 to 3000 BCE), found on a naturally mummified body discovered in the Alps on the Austrian-Italian border.  The mummy, who lived about 5 300 years ago, had various simple tattoos as well as a piercing in one ear. 

    Body art has recently been re-embraced as a highly personal, subjective medium of expression, particularly among the youth.  An increasing acceptance of permanent or semi-permanent body art has enabled it to grow both aesthetically and ethically as a widely practiced and celebrated art form.

    This exhibition explores the history and current application of body art among various cultures.

  • Inscribing Identity

    30 June 2016
    Inscribing Identity
    Inscribing Identity

    Youth culture and body art - Ancient practices popularised by the youth

    Since the development of distinct cultures among various tribes, humans have had the desire to express their sentiments and social standing in a visual way.  The human body (especially the skin) presents a canvas that can be decorated and altered to express individual and group identity in a permanent or temporary manner.

    Evidence of body art dates from the late Neolithic Period in Europe (8000 to 3000 BCE), found on a naturally mummified body discovered in the Alps on the Austrian-Italian border.  The mummy, who lived about 5 300 years ago, had various simple tattoos as well as a piercing in one ear. 

    Body art has recently been re-embraced as a highly personal, subjective medium of expression, particularly among the youth.  An increasing acceptance of permanent or semi-permanent body art has enabled it to grow both aesthetically and ethically as a widely practiced and celebrated art form.

    This exhibition explores the history and current application of body art among various cultures.

  • Celebrating Youth Day

    15 June 2016

    Youth Day 16 June
    1976 – 2016
    40 Years

    “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” - Nelson Mandela

    Youth Day is celebrated each year in memory of black learners who protested on this day in 1976 in Soweto against the mandatory use of Afrikaans as a language of instruction in black secondary schools, as well as against apartheid.

    • The police reacted violently against the protesters to restore order.
    • High school learners were killed and injured, among them the 12 year-old Hector Pieterson.
    • This photo of Hector Pieterson created international outrage and condemnation of apartheid.
    • Within days violent resistance spread throughout South Africa, leading to the death of more than 600 people.
    • The Hector Pieterson Memorial and Museum in Orlando West, Soweto, is dedicated to preserving the memory of the 1976 uprising and the events surrounding it.  The museum contains a moving collection of oral testimonies, pictures, audiovisual displays and historical documents relating to these events.  

    Why is Youth Day significant?

    • It is a reminder of the young people who stood up against an unjust system and paid the highest price.
    • It is a tribute to all who strive towards building a just and democratic society.
    • It is a day for the youth to reflect on a successful future through respect for and understanding of the constitutional values, rights and principles of all South Africans.

    “The future is in the hands of the youth and Youth Day should remind them of this” - Adv. Johan Kruger (Director: Centre for Constitutional Rights) 2013

    Lessons from the past

    The youth of today are facing challenges from which they need to liberate themselves, such as unemployment and poverty. 

    The youth of today is called upon to rise to the challenge of building a vibrant new society.

    What is the relevance of 16 June to us today?

    Other Youth Day Celebrations

    International Youth Day, endorsed by the United Nations, is celebrated on 12 August every year to highlight the impact of the youth, and to engage the youth of the world in conversations with their local, national, and international leaders.

    World Youth Day was instituted by the Catholic Church in 1984.  It is celebrated on Palm Sunday (the Sunday before Easter) on a local level all over the world every year, with an international event every two to three years.  The most emphasized theme is the presence and unity of numerous different cultures.

     

     

     

     

     

  • 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.