National History Museum


  • 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 here 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


  • 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.

  • Dinosaurs' Small Eggs Their Achilles Heel

    11 May 2012

    A number of changes at the transition from the Cretaceous to the Tertiary led to an enormous mass extinction that terminated the era of the dinosaurs – even if dinosaurs survived as birds to our times. Why did mammals recover so successfully from this event, whereas non-avian dinosaurs such as Tyrannosaurus or Apatosaurus did not? Dr Daryl Codron, recently appointed Honorary Research Associate of the National Museum and hosted at the Florisbad Quaternary Research Department, in collaboration with scientists at the University of Zürich, Switzerland, and the Zoological Society of London, showedthat the different reproductive strategies of dinosaurs and mammals may be responsible – a fundamental difference in constraints to oviparous (egg-laying) and viviparous (giving birth to live young) animals.


    The explanation, published in Biology Letters, is based on the concept that animals of a certain body size occupy a certain niche. The main difference between dinosaurs and mammals is that whereas newborn mammals are relatively large in large species, and indirectly via milk use the same niche as their mothers, dinosaur hatchlings cannot increase in size in proportion to the size of their parents. Eggs cannot increase in size, because larger eggs need thicker shells, and shell thickness is constrained by the need of the embryo for oxygen that has to diffuse through that shell. Therefore, the size difference between dinosaur hatchlings and their parents is enormous – a 4 ton elephant mother is ‘only’ about 22 times the mass of her newborn, whereas a 4 ton dinosaur female was about 2500 times the mass of her hatchling!


    Therefore, large dinosaur species did not only occupy one niche during their lifetimes, but had to go through many different niches – for 1 kg, 10 kg, 100 kg, 1000 kg up to 30000 kg and more. One single dinosaur species would thus have occupied a series of niches that would be filled by many different mammal species. The researchers argue that therefore much fewer small and intermediate-sized dinosaur species could have co-existed as compared to mammal species. Actually, when collating body size data from fossil assemblages of avian and non-avian dinosaurs, there is a body size gap at about 2-60 kg that contains fewer species than expected. The researchers used a series of computer simulations to show that competition from larger species leads to this gap in dinosaurs, whereas no such effect is found in mammals. The simulations also show that in the presence of dinosaurs, mammals were held to small body sizes because of competition from juveniles of large dinosaur species. In addition to this, the simulations showed that competition amongst the smallest (<2 kg) dinosaurs, coupled with competition from small mammals, could have forced many small dinosaur species to extinction, or forced them to occupy an entirely new niche space (the aerial niches of birds).


    The body size gap did not pose a problem for the terrestrial predominance of dinosaurs for 150 million years. It was only the catastrophe at the end of the Cretaceous, during which animals above a body size threshold of about 10-25 kg went extinct, that led to the dinosaurs’ demise. Mammals had many species below that threshold from which new species could evolve to occupy the now wide-open niches for larger animals. But because of the body size gap, dinosaurs simply had too few species with which to enter this new phase of the competition race.


    Image: Jeanne Peter, University of Zurich,Switzerland


    Further Reading:

    Codron D, Carbone C, Müller DWH, Clauss M (2012) Ontogenetic niche shifts in dinosaurs influenced size, diversity and extinction in terrestrial vertebrates. Biology Letters DOI:10.1098/rsbl.2012.0240

  • Ashley Kirk-spriggs graduates

    19 April 2012

    Ashley H. Kirk-Spriggs (Head of Entomology) graduated with the degree of Doctor or Philosophy from Rhodes University, Grahamstown on the 12th April, with a thesis entitled “A systematic revision of selected genera of Afrotropical Curtonotidae (Diptera: Schizophora: Ephydroidea) – a phylogenetic approach”.