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News

  • Greatest mass extinction responsible for the making of modern mammals

    19 September 2013
    Two juveniles of the Early Triassic cynodont Thrinaxodon. Photo: Roger Smith
    Two juveniles of the Early Triassic cynodont Thrinaxodon. Photo: Roger Smith

    The ancient closest relatives of mammals — the cynodont therapsids — not only survived the greatest mass extinction of all time, 252 million years ago, but thrived in the aftermath, according to new research.

    Cynodonts, the ancient closest relatives of mammals, arose during the Late Permian, and then diversified steadily through the Triassic. Their fossils have been found on every continent, but they are especially well known from South Africa, Argentina, and Russia. The cynodonts, not only survived the Permo-Triassic mass extinction, which was the greatest mass extinction of all time, but thrived in the aftermath. After the extinction, the cynodonts radiated dramatically through the Triassic to form two new major groups namely the cynognathians and the probainognathians. They occupied many new ecological roles, the cynognathians being mostly herbivorous and the probainognathians being mostly carnivorous. It is from this latter group that the first true mammals arose. The first mammals evolved over 225 million years ago, and include small shrew-like animals such as Megazostrodon from South Africa, Morganucodon from England, and Bienotherium from China. They had fur, differentiated teeth (incisors, canines, molars), large brains, and were probably endothermic, all characteristics which contribute to their huge success today.

    However, new research suggests that this array of unique features arose step-wise over a long time span, and that the first mammals may have arisen as a result of the Permo-Triassic mass extinction, 252 million years ago, which wiped out 90 per cent of marine organisms and 70 per cent of terrestrial species. Although mass extinctions are usually seen as entirely negative, in this case, the cynodonts, which were rare before the extinction, radiated to fill many different niches during the Triassic. The cynognathians radiated rapidly following the mass extinction and continued to do so throughout their history. However, although the probainognathians also diversified rapidly after the mass extinction, their rates of evolutionary change decreased steadily through the Triassic. The cynognathians went extinct during the Late Triassic, but the probainognathians continued to evolve and eventually gave rise to the first mammals some 25 million years after the mass extinction.

    It is traditionally thought that mammals experienced a "burst" of evolutionary innovation, and that the first mammals would have had obvious features that clearly set them apart from their ancestors, the cynodonts. However, they were found to be so similar to other cynodonts that it would be difficult to discern the first mammals from the latest cynodonts. These results suggest that cynodont diversification went through two phases: an initial phase characterised by rapid evolutionary rates or "early bursts" (in the case of most cynognathians and early probainognathians) and a second, prolonged or "long fuse" phase for the more slowly evolving groups such as most probainognathians and the earliest mammals.

    This research is published in Ruta M., Botha-Brink J., Mitchell S.A., Benton M.J. 2013. The radiation of cynodonts and the ground plan of mammalian morphological diversity, in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.  It is also available online at http://dx.doi.org/10.1098/rspb.2013.1865

    Image

    Two juveniles of the Early Triassic cynodont Thrinaxodon. (Courtesy of Roger Smith, Iziko Museums of South Africa Social History / Natural History / Art Collections).

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

  • Night at the Museum

    5 August 2013

    Come and experience the Museum at night

    It’s happening again!  The exhibitions in the National Museum will be coming “alive” during our fourth “Night at the Museum” on Friday, 20 September 2013.

    There will be three sessions, starting at 18:00, 20:00 and 22:00.  If you want to experience this magic, please book well in advance since only a limited number of visitors can be accommodated in each session.  Entrance fees are payable in advance: R20 per adult and R10 per child 6 years and older (children under 6 are free of charge).

    Tickets must be paid for and collected beforehand at the National Museum, 36 Aliwal Street.  For bookings and more information contact us at 051-4479609 and speak to Diane.

     


     

  • Museum publications digitized

    3 June 2013

    The Museum produces a scientific journal Navorsinge van die Nasionale Museum and a magazine, Culna.  The magazine contains popular articles written by staff members on various Museum-related subjects as well as highlights of the past year and is published annually.  Navorsinge van die Nasionale Museum publishes peer-reviewed scientific papers in the natural sciences and humanities, with varying numbers of papers produced as separate parts each year. 

    The first paper to be published in Navorsinge, “Seldsame papiernote, goedvore en bewysstukke van die Oranje-Vrystaat in die versameling van die Nasionale Museum” by Dr A.C. Hoffman, appeared in 1952.  Since then, 258 papers have been published up to December 2012.

    Culnawas originally known as “Nasionale Museum Nuus / National Museum News” and the first issue was printed in 1971.  In 1990 the name changed to Culna, derived from CULture and NAture. 

    All issues of both these publications are now available in digital format through the assistance of the African Journal Archive.  The African Journal Archive is a project of Sabinet Gateway, a non-profit organisation promoting and supporting library and information services in Africa.  The project is funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

    The scanned documents of Culna and Navorsinge will be uploaded onto the National Museum website in due course.  In the interim, papers (see Contents here www.nasmus.co.za/museum/library/publications/culnaand here www.nasmus.co.za/museum/library/publications/scientific-journal) may be requested from the National Museum Library ina [at] nasmus [dot] co [dot] za.  Some of the more recently published articles are already available at www.nasmus.co.za/museum/library/publications.


     

  • Recreating a Batho red brick house

    13 March 2013

    A permanent exhibition on Bloemfontein’s oldest existing township, Batho, is currently taking shape in the National Museum. The objective is to recreate the atmosphere of a typical Batho street scene. One of Batho’s characteristics is its English-style red brick houses. In order to recreate a typical red brick house, the Museum’s Design Department teamed up with the Archaeology Department’s Dr Lloyd Rossouw to make a mould of a section of a wall of a typical Batho house. A silicone mixture was applied to the wall in layers and then allowed to cure. The silicone mould will be used to make a master mould that will be used to cast resin ‘bricks’ for the Batho house.  The photo shows Jeanine Visser (designer, left) and Lloyd Rossouw (archaeologist) applying the silicone mixture to the wall of the Batho house.

     

  • Entomology receives SABIF funding for digitization

    13 February 2013
    Ms. Eunice Letsobe digitizing specimens of Coleoptera (beetles).
    Ms. Eunice Letsobe digitizing specimens of Coleoptera (beetles).

    The Entomology Department of the National Museum was in receipt of a “Seed Funding for Digitisation Grant” from SABIF in early 2013. This funding is enabling digitisation of our extensive collection of Coleoptera (beetles), which currently comprises over 153 000 specimens. The collection is significant both in its geographical scope and as the largest collection of beetles from the Free State Grasslands. Ms. Eunice Letsobe was employed in January 2013 to undertake the digitisation, and over a period of 12 months 26 000 individual specimens will be fully digitised, for later transfer to Specify 6. This is also enabling full re-curation of the material and transfer to newly-constructed glass-topped insect drawers with unit trays.

     

     

     

     

     

     


     

  • Research visit by leading world authority on muscid flies

    25 January 2013

    The Department of Entomology hosted a three month research visit by Dr Márcia Couri (Museu Nacional, Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), the world’s leading authority on muscid flies.  Dr Couri’s principle research objective was to study the Museum’s collection of unidentified Afrotropical muscid flies for a chapter on systematics in the Manual of the Afrotropical Diptera.  The study resulted in the identification of 159 species in 39 genera, representing 18% of species and 66% of genera currently recognized in the Afrotropical Region.  The study will also result in the description of six species and one new genus, 54 new locality records for the region and new Muscidae hosts of conopid flies.  All contributions will be co-authored with Dr Ashley Kirk-Spriggs (National Museum) and Dr Adrian Pont (Oxford University Museum of Natural History, United Kingdom).


     

  • Historian receives SALA award

    15 November 2012
    From left: Mr Siphiwo Mahala, Dr Hannes Haasbroek and Mr Paul Mashatile.
    From left: Mr Siphiwo Mahala, Dr Hannes Haasbroek and Mr Paul Mashatile.

    Dr Hannes Haasbroek, Head of the History Department, received the prestigious SALA (South African Literature Awards) prize for creative non-fiction for his book ’n Seun soos Bram, published in 2011 by Umuzi. Hannes received the prize on 10 November 2012 at a gala-evening held at the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein campus. The prize was handed to him by the Minister of Arts and Culture, Mr Paul Mashatile.  Also at the ceremony was Mr Siphiwo Mahala, author and Head of Books and Publishers at the Department of Arts and Culture.  ‘n Seun soos Bram is a treatment of the life of advocate and anti-apartheid activist Bram Fischer.  This is not a book dealing primarily with the tragedy in Fischer’s life or an analytical work about his communism.  It is the story of a promising Afrikaner boy in the context of his prominent and nationalist Free State family.  It is also the story of his mother Ella who never abandoned either her own nationalist views or her devotion to her son.  This is a story of intrigue and espionage, and of Bram’s happy childhood and close ties with his mother. It is partly based on new documents such as family letters and Ella’s diaries.

  • Fischer biographer at Franschoek Literary Festival

    31 May 2012
    From left: Ruth Rice, Hannes Haasbroek & Ilse Wilson
    From left: Ruth Rice, Hannes Haasbroek & Ilse Wilson

    Hannes Haasbroek, historian at the National Museum and author of the biography ‘n Seun soos Bram – ‘n Portret van Bram Fischer en sy ma Ella (Umuzi, 2011), participated in a panel discussion of his book during the sixth Franschoek Literary Festival, which took place in May 2012.  Also on the panel were Bram Fischer’s daughters, Ruth Rice (left) and Ilse Wilson, who shared their memories of life as the children of communist parents in apartheid South Africa.  There was much interest in the Fischer discussion and all tickets were sold out.

    The mainly English festival draws many famous writers and poets from all over South Africa as well as international literary figures.  Afrikaans writers are also accommodated and this year authors such as Deon Meyer, Dana Snyman, Kerneels Breytenbach and Marita van der Vyver were present to discuss their latest books.