National History Museum


  • 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.

  • The Inquisitive Mind: Science and Imagination

    11 December 2014

    This exhibition at Oliewenhuis Art Museum is a representation of collected heritage items –natural history and cultural history objects – from the collections of the National Museum, through the eyes of artists.  Oliewenhuis Art Museum Education Officer, Yolanda de Kock, came up with the brilliant idea to “pair” departments at the National Museum with contemporary South African artists to observe the investigations, results and activities of researchers and use this information as inspiration to create artworks. 

    The project of combining research, education and exhibition fits the mission of the National Museum perfectly: to provide heritage resources and an enjoyable experience to all people through quality research, conservation, education and exhibitions.

    The Inquisitive Mind: Science and Imagination can be viewed at Oliewenhuis Art Museum until 1 February 2015.


  • Remembering Mandela

    5 December 2014

    Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela

    18 July 1918 - 5 December 2013

  • New species of dinosaur ancestor found in South Africa

    14 November 2014

    A new species of the erythrosuchid archosauriform reptile Garjainia has been found near Paul Roux in the eastern Free State of South Africa. The new species, Garjainia madiba, so named after Nelson Mandela, is described by Gower et al. in the journal Plos ONE. It differs slightly from its sister species G. prima, which is found only in Russia. This dinosaur ancestor lived during the early Middle Triassic, some 247 million years ago. It reached a length of some 5 metres and was one of the dominant predators in South Africa at this time. “An analysis of its bone microstructure indicates rapid growth rates, consistent with data for many other Triassic archosauriforms, but also a high degree of flexibility as growth slowed during the unfavourable growing season” says Dr Jennifer Botha-Brink, a palaeontologist from the National Museum, Bloemfontein, and co-author on the paper. G. madiba is the geologically oldest erythrosuchid reptile known from the Southern Hemisphere, and demonstrates that these animals achieved a cosmopolitan biogeographical distribution by the end of the Early Triassic, within five million years of the end-Permian mass extinction, the most catastrophic mass extinction in Earth’s history.

  • Fossil turtles solve mystery

    7 November 2014
    Galápagos tortoise from Santa Cruz island (Photo: Markus Lambertz)
    Galápagos tortoise from Santa Cruz island (Photo: Markus Lambertz)

    Through careful study of modern and early fossil turtles (including terrapins and tortoises), researchers now have a better understanding of how turtles breathe and the evolutionary processes that helped shape their unique breathing apparatus and turtle shell. The findings reported in Nature Communications on 7 November help determine when and how the unique breathing apparatus of turtles evolved. Lead author Dr. Tyler Lyson of the Smithsonian Institution and Denver Museum of Nature and Science says, “Turtles have a bizarre body plan and one of the more puzzling aspects to this body plan is the fact that turtles have locked their ribs up into the iconic turtle shell. No other animal does this and the likely reason why is because ribs play such an important role in breathing in most animals including mammals, birds, crocodylians, and lizards.”

    Instead turtles have developed a unique abdominal muscular sling that wraps around their lungs and organs to help them breathe. When and how this mechanism evolved has been unknown. “It seemed pretty clear that the turtle shell and breathing mechanism evolved in tandem, but which happened first? It’s a bit of the chicken or the egg causality dilemma,” says Lyson.

    “We studied the anatomy and bone microstructure of the earliest fossil turtle, Eunotosaurus africanus and found that the muscle insertion markers indicating the presence of intercostal muscles, which are critical for breathing in most other animals, were absent, indicating that the modern turtle breathing apparatus was already in place around 260 million years ago” says Dr Jennifer Botha-Brink of the National Museum, Bloemfontein, the South African palaeontologist who analysed the Eunotosaurus thin sections. This animal shares many unique features with modern day turtles, but lacked a shell. A recognizable turtle shell doesn’t appear for another 50 million years. Lyson says “Eunotosaurus bridges the morphological gap between the early reptile body plan and the highly modified body plan of living turtles, making it the Archaeopteryx of turtles.”

    The study suggests that early in the evolution of the turtle body plan a gradual increase in body wall rigidity produced a division of function between the ribs and abdominal respiratory muscles. As the ribs broadened and stiffened the torso, they became less effective for breathing which caused the abdominal muscles to become specialized for breathing, which in turn freed up the ribs to eventually – approximately 50 million years later – to become fully integrated into the characteristic turtle shell.

    Lyson says he and his colleagues now plan to investigate reasons why the ribs of early turtles starting to broaden in the first place. “Broadened ribs are the first step in the general increase in body wall rigidity of early basal turtles, which ultimately leads to both the evolution of the turtle shell and this unique way of breathing. I plan to study this key aspect to get a better understanding why the ribs started to broaden.”